Books I Read During October 2010

I am trying a new review system in this month’s reads. There four components to help figure how if a book is right for you:

Audience: Who is the book meant for?

Rating: How good was it? There will be four ratings: Must-Read, Excellent, Good, and Pass

The Promise: What does the author offer the reader (in one sentence?)

The Review: 100-200 words to give you a bit more on the book


The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Audience: Everyone

Rating: Must-Read

The Promise: A subprime mortgage narrative about three parties that bet the system would collapse.

The Review: Like This American Life’s Giant Pool of Money, The Big Short is required reading. Lewis followed three groups of investors who predicted the fall of the subprime mortgage market, placed bets with their money on its pending collapse and made enormous sums of money. Lewis makes the technical details understandable and the characters very particular. Understand that he writes The Big Short as an extended epilogue to Liar’s Poker with the perspective that the whole Wall Street financial system should have blown up 25 years when he left Salomon Brothers.

Excellence by Design: Leadership by John Spence

Audience: Everyone

Rating: Excellent

The Promise: A snappy synthesis of the best concepts across the leadership spectrum

The Review: This is hard to admit: John Spence reads more business books than I do and a the beginning of EBD: Leadership he talks about his early mentor Charlie Owen and the routine Spence got into. The book itself is a synthesis of the hundreds of books Spence had read on the subject of leadership. The energy and inspiration of the topic combined with the author’s own enthusiasm are a compelling combination. I would love to see Spence use this same small trim, 150 page treatment to other topics in the business organization. His six point framework includes Dream Big Dream, Opportunity Is Everywhere, Embrace Risk, Believe In People, Attitude Is Everything, and Lifelong Learning.

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

Audience: The more daring half of the population.

Rating: Good

The Promise: Help people challenge authority and live unconventional, remarkable lives

The Review: Guillebeau catalogs all the roadblocks that could be keeping you from a better future and helps as much as he can to move them out of your way. His passion for micro-businesses and travel hacking make prominent appearances. If you read Guillebeau’s website and like his style, The Art of Non-Conformity is going to work for you.

The Global Detective by Alan Webber

Audience: Those who listen for the weak signals

Rating: Excellent

The Promise: Global tales from a seasoned trendwatcher.

The Review: Webber snuck out this ebook among New Word City’s growing catalog. The co-founding editor of Fast Company is at his best here as he takes the reader on a week long trip through Germany and Austria in the summertime. He visits friends and conferences while reporting on a proposal for Geneva Convention for economic warfare, a porn site that fights deforestation, and the challenges of teaching Eastern European social entrepreneurs about entrepreneurship. More installments are promised. The book is currently available on the Kindle and at the iBookstore.

Program or Be Programmed by Doug Rushkoff

Audience: Media mavens and the Digerati

Rating: Good

The Promise: If computers are channeling more of the media, isn’t it important to know how computers work?

The Review: I saw Rushkoff speak at TOC Frankfurt and bought the book as he walked off stage. He says the reason predictions about the media are so often off-base is that no one understanding how computers work or in other words, how to program computers. His book covers 10 biases that computers have ranging from how they force choosing between two things (at the lowest level the answer can only be 0 or 1) to how they reduce complexity to how digital is biased toward depersonalization and bad behavior online. In every case, the noted bias conflicts with what normally happens in the real world and the result is unexpected or detrimental, like how sharing and stealing are hard to distinguish. Rushkoff says we need to recognize these biases and compensate for them. The book is only available through OR Books.

Bury My Heart at Conference Room B by Stan Slip

Audience: Managers

Rating: Good

The Promise: Emotional commitment is the key to happy managers and successful organizations.

The Review: Slap uses a heavy dose of provocateur in Bury My Heart to deliver his message. The sell starts from page one and doesn’t stop. The introduction is testimonials and the first chapter is the description of a painful, must-solve problem of conflicted managers. Somewhere in Chapter Two we find out emotional commitment is the answer and the argument makes sense. Know your values, live your values, and find ways express those values at work, repeat with your employees. The values exercise on page 69 is worth the price of admission. I found approach a little too loud. Wish there was more insight from the final, outstanding notes section inside the body of the book.

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