Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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17
May

Recent Reading

Fault Line: A Novel by Barry Eisler – Having read and thoroughly enjoyed all of Eisler’s John Rain books, I was anxious to give his new non-Rain novel a go.  The book was entertaining, but didn’t hold me as well as the Rain stories.  While I liked the character of the older brother, an ultra-cool trained assassin (like Rain), the younger brother is just OK and the legal sidekick, Sarah, was just annoying – well beyond what Eisler intended her to be.  Overall, enjoyable, but I’d recommend Eisler’s fantastic John Rain books if you’re just starting off with the author.

Long Lost by Harlan Coben – This was my first book by Coben and I liked it a lot.  The hero, Myron Bolitar, has apparently appeared in several of the author’s books before, which I’m now interested in going back and trying out.  The characters are fascinating (although not completely exposed in this book, I suppose they are explained better in previous volumes) and story kept me guessing.  The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but far from disappointing.  Definitely a fun read.

Afraid by Jack Kilborn -  I think the genre is horror, but never having read a horror story, it’s not clear to me.  The story is full of violent death vividly described.  The story kept me riveted, but not without making me wish it would end sooner.  The writing was good and for fans of this type of book, I’m sure it’s terrific.  Certainly an interesting premise and platform for loads-o-killin’.  Just not my gig.

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell – This is the only non-fiction, non-technical book I’ve read in the last month.  It’s the story of a Navy SEAL team dropped into Afghanistan on a mission and how everything comes unglued, resulting in not only the deaths of most of the team (thus the name of the book), but in many additional SEALs sent in to save the original team.  All I can say is that you just can’t make this shit up.  This book is fantastic.  If you don’t cry at some point, you’re not an American.  While the broad-brush attribution of the “liberal media” for military problems gets a little tiresome, it is far from the focus of the story.  This book will keep you in awe of the men and women who serve in the American military.  A must read.

jQuery in Action by Bear Bibeault – I’ve started to play with jQuery on this blog with PHP and on my web site that is .Net-based.  Since I’m not a JavaScript expert, I was hoping that the book would lead me down the path of implementing jQuery within a more basic JavaScript framework.  It does not.  It is simply a detailed description of jQuery and how it works.  A better reference book for jQuery than a tutorial on its use, IMO.

The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel – The original version of this book was the go to reference for cycling training.  This new edition adds loads of new data and more detail about stretching, nutrition and periodization.  While more appropriate for the racer than the recreational cyclist, if you’re willing to do some dynamic editing, any cyclist with a desire to improve can get something from this book.  It is not basic, however.  If you’re new to the sport, you may want to read something targeted at beginners.

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 May 17th, 2009  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 1 Comment
08
Apr

Recent Reading

Power Play by Joseph Finder – I came across Power Play while cruising through some thrillers at a book store.  Having read Finder’s Paranoia a few years ago and remembering how much I enjoyed it, I picked it up and consumed it quickly.  A very fun and fast read.  I guess it would be called a corporate thriller, sorta like how Grisham’s books are legal thrillers.  I really like how Finder uses an otherwise unassuming and humble (yet cool) hero to figure things out and save the day.  The ending is a little anticlimactic, but overall, very enjoyable.

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci – If you’re a fan of baseball, you’ll love this book.  It’s more like an expose than anything else.  If you were involved with the Yankees and you’re name doesn’t rhyme with Jereck Deter (or isn’t Jorge Pasada, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera or Bernie Williams), Joe’s got something . . . interesting . . . to say about you.  Very thoughtful stuff about steroids and even more interesting material on changing attitudes in the game.  His commentary on how the rest of the league caught up with the Yankees’ ability to outspend other teams by being smarter is also illuminating (in a Money Ball-ish kinda way).

If, as Bill Parcels says, “you’re only as good as your record,” Torre is among the best ever.  1249 wins over 12 seasons, including 4 World Series Championships.  His teams went to the playoffs every year he was in New York.  Impressive.

The only problem with the book was the amount of time Torre spend describing the 7th game, 12th inning Yankee defeat of the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS.  Very, very painful.

Why Shi*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day by Peter J. Bentley – Bentley uses the story of someone’s amazingly bad day to walk the reader through a basic how things work of anatomy, physics, medicine, electronics and so forth.  I almost punted on the book because of how basic it initially seemed, but I realized that I was learning at least one thing with each little story the author presented.  In fact, a few were completely enlightening.  You certainly have to be in the right mood to read this and some insatiable curiosity about the world around you is required.  It’s a fun way pf presenting the material, though.

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 April 8th, 2009  
 Will  
 Books, Red Sox, Sports  
   
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19
Mar

Recent Reading

Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business by Jeffrey Fox – I had high hopes for this book, a parable about what a young paperboy learns about business and life through his paper delivery travails.  It doesn’t work IMO, at least not for a reasonably knowledgeable adult who say, can balance his own checkbook.  Might be great for an early teen who could use a lesson on why hard work and ingenuity pay off.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson – Warning: if you read this book in public, you will routinely laugh out loud and draw attention to yourself.  Further, if you have food or liquid in your mouth when reading this book, it will not remain there.  This book is hilarious (Thanks, Ron!).  I imagine it is a crack up for anyone, but if you happened to grow up during the 50s and 60s, memories will stream back into your head and you’ll be laughing about your own experiences as much as with Bryson’s.  If you didn’t grow up during that era, the book will reveal how we got to where we are today comically, but with incredible insight into what underlies who Americans are.  A total blast to read.  Highly recommended.

Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore – I’ve read many Christopher Moore books and have totally enjoyed them all.  This one, an earlier book of his, has the same strange Moore humor found in his other works, but isn’t as captivating.  It took me a long time – about half the book – to warm up to the story.  If you’re an avid Moore reader, it’s certainly worth the time.  If you’re new to his books, though, I’d recommend one of his later works.  My favorites being “You Suck” and “Lamb: The Gospel According to Bill, Christ’s Childhood Pal.”

 March 19th, 2009  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 2 Comments
02
Mar

Recent Reading

I usually alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction, but in the last couple of months, I’ve been mostly on the fiction side of the literary table.  My last three reads included two fictional and one non-fictional books, I’d recommend them all.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez – Terrific cyber crime drama with enough internet-related acronyms and buzzwords to keep even the most sociopathic computer geek engaged while being totally readable by those yet to be able to spell PC.  Suarez blurs good and evil in what I feel is a bit disturbing (I like my bad guys to wear black and my good guys to wear white), but always keeps the reader on his/her toes.  The ending is a total setup for a sequel.  Thanks Brad!

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell – While time, place and mood have loads to do with how one feels about a book being read, I’m pretty sure that this is the best work of action fiction I have ever consumed.  A total blast.  Proud Jew raised by grandparents who are murdered, turned mob hitman turned physician.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you probably read stuff like this every day.  Highly recommended.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis – If you hadn’t guessed, this is a work of non-fiction.  While the book is OK, the story is terrific.  I had no idea that Sesame Street was completely engineered – nothing random about it.  The goals of the show were almost too lofty to believe – not so much to educate young kids, but to fundamentally change the fabric of American society.  It certainly helped that those goals were so well aligned with the Johnson administration, when the show was founded.  Who would have guessed that it could succeed?  Even the competition with Barney is interesting.  Fun and informative read.

 March 2nd, 2009  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 4 Comments
08
Jul

Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times by George Crile

Charlie Wilson's War History is a story.  There’s a timeline; a plot (even if it’s derived later); heroes and villains; uncertain conclusions; some resolutions and loads of stuff to be learned or enjoyed along the way.  Just like in a good novel.  Well, sort of.  History writers have great fodder for books, but often don’t execute well enough to tell a story like a good novelist does.  This is NOT the case for Charlie Wilson’s War.  This book is outstanding.  The author, George Crile, long time producer of the show 60 Minutes, uses the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction facts available to him to tell a story about a totally wild, frequently drunk, womanizing, power abusing Texas Congressman who was responsible for “the CIA’s victory against the USSR in Afghanistan.”

Who knew that while Ronald Reagan was unsuccessfully funding rebels in Nicaragua, it was an out-of-control Congressman who was making sure that the USSR bankrupted itself trying to fight their own Vietnam against the Afghans?  The characters are straight out of a good novel, although I doubt any writer would be inventive enough to manufacture stories like the real ones recounted in this book.

At times, the book is a scary lesson in how politics inside the Beltway really work.  At times it’s about military strategy and at times it’s like a great spy novel with real super-covert CIA guys.  It’s about what I expect would be produced if Tom Clancy and Bob Woodward got together to write a book.

If you like history, spy stuff, underdog stories or just plain ol’ good historic story telling, check this book out.  You’ll have a blast.  Absolutely one of my new all-time favorites and great summer reading.

Note: When googling the book, I found out that there is a movie being produced due out this year based on it.  Starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and directed by Mike Nichols.

 July 8th, 2007  
 Will  
 Books  
   
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03
Apr

Reading Something Serious

Most of the books that I’ve read recently have been of the mindless, for-entertainment-only variety.  Completely enjoyable and filled with unreal torrid sex, death-defying drug usage, flagrant murder and spies that would put James Bond to shame.  While I thoroughly enjoyed these novels while I read them, not a single one of them is worthy of consuming space in my memory or reliving on this blog.  The last two books I’ve read, though, represent an intentional return to reality or, at least, to politics, politicians and world affairs.  As much as that represents reality.

Barack Obama - The Audacity of HopeThe first, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama is his treatise on who he is and what he believes in.  Of course, it’s the introductory book for his run for the presidency, but I liked it more than most of books of this kind.  I enjoyed his writing thoroughly and his folksy style makes it a pleasant read.  Whether you like his policies and beliefs or not, his point of view on the current state of American society is interesting and his pragmatic viewpoint is refreshing.  He’s a little short on the detail of his solutions, but he does paint a picture of what he believes is wrong and the direction he would take the country if he were in charge fairly well.

Jimmy Carter - Palestine: Peace Not ApartheidThe second, Jimmy Carter’s, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid had a far greater impact on me and I can’t say it was entirely pleasant.  If you strip away Carter’s promotion of the work of the Carter Center and his references to international trips with his wife Rosalynn, you expose his indictment of Israel and the country’s responsibility, in Carter’s view, of being the biggest issue in Middle-Eastern peace.

As I started reading this book, I found I was incredibly defensive.  Having consumed the pro-Israel Kool-Ade my entire life.  But, as the I made it further into the book, I realized how much propaganda I’ve been subject to over time about the state of things in the region and about who’s responsible.  Carter’s arguments certainly are flavored by his personal involvement with peace in the region and are a bit self-aggrandizing, but in general, they are factual and indicate more than just his own views.

I think that Carter could have done a better job presenting both sides of the story in this book.  While he describes the Israeli side of things, he doesn’t do so in a balanced fashion.  In most cases, he spends a chapter describing the problem and how the Israeli’s exacerbate it, then wraps up the section with a brief statement on why Israel is compelled to act the way it does in the particular circumstance.  By writing this way, he ignores a zillion years of history and only does justice to the pain felt in one camp.  Then again, this may be my defensiveness showing . . .

In the end, though, Carter’s argument is compelling.  Both sides need to make compromises in their positions, of course, but Carter shows how, outside of its concessions to Egypt (for which he gives Sadat the most credit), Israel hasn’t given up much since the 1967 war, including any of its gains from that war.  Carter never ignores the complexity of the issue, but boils down the solution to simple terms; there must be two states – Israel and Palestine – that mutually recognize one another; Israel is going to have to give back some land to create a real Palestinian state out of the land it took in the 1967 war; and some international cross-religious group is going to have to broker access to the holy places in the region including, of course, Jerusalem.

Painful but compelling book.  A must read.

 April 3rd, 2007  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 4 Comments
23
Feb

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

I haven’t done a book review in a while, but having just finished You Suck: A Love Story, I had to write a few sentences about it.  While I don’t think it’s nearly as good as A Dirty Job, or Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Moore’s irreverent writing is still a hoot.  If you haven’t experienced Moore’s off-beat humor, my favorite passage from the book is a great example:

“But apparently, the entire fucking country shuts down on Christmas, slammed under the oppressive iron fist of the baby Jesus, so out of nine Starbucks we try, all are closed.”

It’s a very quick read and a lot of fun.  If you’re looking for your first Moore experience, though, I’d start with A Dirty Job or Lamb.

 

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 February 23rd, 2007  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 3 Comments
11
Jan

Reading the Woodward Troika

Listening to the President’s speech made me think about Woodward’s book’s on Bush and Iraq.  Wasn’t General Shinseki fired for saying we needed more troops in Iraq at the beginning of the war?

During December, the release of Bob Woodward’s third book on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq finally compelled me to read all three in his series,

  • Plan of Attack
  • Bush at War
  • State of Denial

First, I can’t recommend that anyone read all three unless you enjoy the rehashing of the same data in multiple forms.  Also, Woodward seems to change some of his points of view of the data between books, drawing different conclusions as the series moves forward.

Second and more importantly, what can I say . . . reading the books made me fell sad, distraught, embarrassed, disappointed, disgusted and a flood of other emotions with almost too many adjectives required to describe them.

I am always a bit wary of any one historian’s view of events.  History is very easy to shape and virtually all historians do so to make their own point.  Revisionist history from the cheap seats is very easy and frequently invoked.  With that in mind, Woodward’s characterization of the events leading up to, entering and continuing the war in Iraq certainly made understand the extreme egotism, idealism and a range of other goals and agendas that were at play.  After reading the books, though, I was surprised how much I felt like the biggest issue was actually one of mismanagement, incompetence and poor decision-making.

Tenent’s abdication of his guardian role and Powell’s ultimate good soldier capitulation represented the ultimate breakdown in any checks and balances that should exist.  Of course, President Bush, as the buck-stops-here manager didn’t appear to work too hard to get at any dissension in the ranks either.  The President’s misguided and distorted patriotism clearly caused him to blatantly disregard the facts.  Of course the various lies, bullying and personal agendas only served to make the situation that much harder to deal with.

By now, everyone has an opinion on the good and the bad, the right and the wrong.  Again, my breakthrough was the concept of seriously screwed up management in the White House.  Not a good sign for the future.  As if I need another bad harbinger.

Tenent’s and Powell’s failures to sway the administration remain the points from Woodward’s writing that will echo in my head long after I forget the amazing quantities of stupid other stuff that went on.

Of course, the President asked Colin Powell for his opinion on the matter of war with Iraq.  Powell clearly stated his opinion against going to war.  In the summer of 2002, according to Woodward, Powell told the President:

“You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people . . . You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.

Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you own it.”

They appear to have been correct . . .

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 January 11th, 2007  
 Will  
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14
Nov

A Coupla Interesting Books

I’ve been reading loads of fiction lately, but I squeezed in a couple of non-fiction books just to keep myself slightly aware of the real world.  The first was iWoz by Steve Wozniak (duh).  I was really disappointed in this book.  The jacket has a quote from Guy Kawasaki that states that “iWoz is the personal computer generation’s Soul of a New Machine.”  Sorry, while it’s interesting to learn about the other guy from Apple, the comparison just isn’t reasonable.  There are one or two chapters that discuss Apple, and you get a little feel about Woz and Apple in other chapters, but mostly, the book is Steve Wosniak’s memoir – and he clearly wants you to know that Apple was a relatively small and, perhaps, less-significant part of who he is than we might think otherwise.  Quick read; interesting guy; not what I was looking for.
 
The next book was How Great Generals Win by Bevin Alexander.  I really liked this book, but if you’re not into military history, it may be boring for you.  I’ve written several posts previously on the relationship between military leadership and business leadership.  This book offers a glimpse of the achievements of the greatest military leaders of all time – Hannibal, Mao Zedong, Stonewall Jackson, Napoleon, Rommel, Scipio, etc.  This is not a business book, per se, but I believe there are loads of business lessons that can be drawn from it.  A bit of a long read, but the author does a good job at building a flowing story around each general and his exploits.
 
 

 November 14th, 2006  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 2 Comments
03
Oct

The Science of Superheroes by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg

I’ve never read a comic book in my life.  But, like every guy on the planet with Luke Skywalker-esque delusions of saving the world (universe?), I’m fascinated by the prospect that superheroes might exist.  OK, maybe my fascination is with the idea that I might secretly be one.  So, the idea of mapping real science to the powers of comic superheroes drove me to pick up this book in a second.  After all, if I did have super powers I needed to know how to unleash them.

I have just two words to describe my disappointment in the book: “don’t bother.”  The book goes into long, boring descriptions of why the powers of superheroes are impossible (duh!).  This, of course, destroyed forever my dreams of being or becoming one.  OK, so the super gravity of Krypton wouldn’t be enough to enable Superman to fly on Earth.  Who cares?  Just go ahead and burst my bubble.  Jeez!  No new information here.  I guess I was just ignorantly hoping that at least one superhero had powers supported by physics.  Batman comes close, but who wants to wear that costume.

In any case, my non-x-ray vision did help me finish the book.  I did enjoy the brief descriptions of the origin of the comic books and the characters a lot. This was all new to me.  The brief discussions about the authors and artists was also quite interesting.  These sections were relatively short and few and far between.  Not enough to redeem the book.

Once again I was suckered in by a book’s cover.  Isn’t there some warning about that?  Like I said, don’t bother.

 

 October 3rd, 2006  
 Will  
 Books  
   
 2 Comments