Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My 2018 Book Reviews

Looking back on 2018, I see that I've done a lot of reading.   Here's a selection of the books I've read this past year, along with some corresponding remarks.  In random order:

Making Yourself Indispensable, Mark Samuel

A catchy title and intriguing thesis, but the advice bromidic.  The key to indispensability, says the author, is self-accountability.  Bottom line: find ways to go the extra mile and you’ll wind up OK.

Death March, Edward Yourdon

This is a project management book, not one about the Holocaust. Author Ed Yourdon, who passed away last year, was one of the few famous technology consultants that I never met personally, but I know people who knew him and who are quoted in this book. That’s why I had high hopes when I started. But...  Written in 2004, this book did not age well. For me, there’s too much fluff, and the anecdotes are dated.  Although this book was written for the era of it’s publication,  there are a few nuggets still relevant hidden inside if you look for them.

Out of the Depths, Rabbi Israel Meri Lau

Unlike Yourdon’s Death March, this one is about the Holocaust.  In this autobiography, Rabbi Lau tells of his journey from surviving the Buchenwald concentration camp to becoming Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. The subject matter is heavy but it's an awesome (in the literal sense) and miraculous story.

Uncommon Type, Tom Hanks

Written by the famous actor, this is a truly  delightful collection of short stories. Each one is richly imagined and presented, transporting the reader to settings as varied as those of the author’s movies.  Who knew he was such a talented writer too.

Go, John Clellon Holmes

A fascinating and thoroughly entertaining semi-fictional autobiography.  (Yes! That’s a thing.) Published in 1952, it paints a romantic picture of the nascent days of  beatnik New York City and it’s underground bohemian subculture. Captivating, honest, and brilliantly written.

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

For reasons I’m forbidden to expand upon publicly, I’ve been exposed to the Kafka software platform recently.  Well then, I said. Let me go back the source. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a classic work on absurdist existentialism, where the main character wakes up one morning to find himself trapped inside the body of a hideous bug. Oh, the irony.

Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, Lynn Taylor

What a cockamamie book. I should have known just from the provocative title. A pop psychology attempt to draw parallels between toddler behavior and that of office coworkers. There may have been something worthwhile in there but I gave up trying to find it.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni

I liked this book a lot. Written as a novel, it tells the story of a fictional CEO taking over a struggling company and in doing so explains a model of teamwork and success. Management-fiction is a hard format to write in, as I know first-hand, and this does it well.

Leadership on the Line, Heifetz & Linsky

This is a heavy duty management book, published by Harvard Business Review Press. It presents a dichotomy between Technical Leadership, which solves known problems in a known way, and Adaptive Leadership, where leaders successfully shoot at problems from the sides of their hips. Good stuff, but it takes an effort to get through.

Black Edge, Sheelah Kolhatkar

Recommended by a peer, this book attempts to be an expos√© on the alleged financial shenanigans of Steven Cohen,  founder of hedge fund SAC Capital. Entertaining, informative and thought provoking, and even somewhat successful.

The Rookie Bookie, Wertheim & Moskowitz

A kids book, fun short and light, with key lessons in financial statistics seamlessly weaved in. Cute and easy.

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