Review: Barry Schwartz – Why We Work (S)

Why We Work
Barry Schwartz

“An eye-opening, groundbreaking tour of the purpose of work in our lives, showing how work operates in our culture and how you can find your own path to happiness in the workplace. Why do we work? The question seems so simple. But Professor Barry Schwartz proves that the answer is surprising, complex, and urgent… How did we get to this tangled place? How do we change the way we work? With great insight and wisdom, Schwartz shows us how to take our first steps toward understanding, and empowering us all to find great work.”

This was the book I was trying to get, when I ended up getting The Paradox of Choice as this one wasn’t there. I put this one on reserve and hence read it next. Unfortunately, it’s still not that great. It was better than The Paradox of Choice, but not great. It’s also a lot smaller then The Paradox of Choice which is good as at least it got to the point a lot quicker. But it still didn’t have much in it or much of a point.

The sub-stories in each chapter are ok, but basically only relate back to the point of “people don’t work just for money”. This is ok, but really I was expecting more interesting stories but instead these were just flat. I was also expecting additional ideas, solutions and actionable items that can be taken away from the book, to provide a meaningful workplace. But it seemed to just rant about “people don’t work just for money” for the whole book.

The action items were only very briefly touched on in the last chapter which is only 5 pages and is basically a conclusion. Thus it’s only a 2-3 stars from me.

Review: David J. Schwartz – The Magic of Thinking Big (S)

The Magic of Thinking Big
David J. Schwartz

“The Magic of Thinking Big gives you useful methods, not empty promises. Dr. Schwartz presents a carefully designed program for getting the most out of your job, your marriage and family life, and your community. He proves that you don’t need to be an intellectual or have innate talent to attain great success and satisfaction, but you do need to learn and understand the habit of thinking and behaving in ways that will get you there.”

Despite being first published in 1959, it’s not bad! Most of the book’s ideas are still relevant today. Obviously with older books such as this, you can tell that is is older from the style of writing and examples being used. However the principles and overall message is still the same. I think it would have been really good for it’s time. It has aged a little but not as much as you would think.

I read this book on and off and took quite a while to read it. I felt like you needed to be in the mood for it. Most of the “magic secrets of success” are things such as believing you can succeed, setting yourself up, managing your environment etc. For me tp enjoy and take it in, I needed to take breaks in between these chapters and not read a lot of it at once.

The author’s writing style was good and draws on his personal experience for short stories and examples. For a self help book which I don’t normally like, it is pretty good. I would recommend it for anyone who likes self help books, or needs to think more positive or stop procrastinating. I wouldn’t read it again; overall it was average. 3 stars from me.

Review: David Vise – The Google Story (S)

The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time
David A Vise

The Google Story is the definitive account of one of the most remarkable organizations of our time. Every day over sixty-four million people use Google in more than one hundred languages, running billions of searches for information on everything and anything. Through the creative use of cutting-edge technology and a series of groundbreaking business ideas, Google’s thirty-five year old founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have in ten years taken Google from being just another internet start-up to a company with a market value of over US$80 billion. Based on scrupulous research and extraordinary access to the inner workings of Google, this book takes you inside the creation and growth of a company that has become so familiar its name is used as a verb around the world.”

2 stars? I mean, I finished it, so it’s more than 1 star right? But really I skimmed for the last while, so it  should be 1 star. I honestly don’t think it had anything good in it. I was expecting some insights, including ups and downs of the journey along the way. Yes it was a journey I guess, but it was written by someone else and it had no insights at all. It was like the author had found a bunch of people that knew The Google Guys and interviewed them, and then mashed it together. He didn’t have any knowledge or access to Google Inc….

Even more terribly, because they were all raging fans of The Google Guys already, they gushed over them or ideas. There were no “hard” moments in the journey of the business or even anyone that disliked The Google Guys. There is always controversy and hard decisions to be made, but none of these were mentioned at all. It was very one sided towards the things that were being done well.

Even the good parts of business that the author advised The Google Guys were doing right, were glossed over and had no depth or insight. It was just like “now they made $x profit or share price” with no detail of how that happened. It also went into the origins or backstory a lot more than needed. We seemed to spend a lot of the book there, languishing in the past of a business that is actually relatively futuristic.

The back of the book clearly tells us that the book was not created, authorised or endorsed by Google, Inc – and you can see why. I only picked it up thinking that everyone should know a little about Google and some stories to tell, but after I finished I don’t think I have any, and as a book it didn’t do it for me. I have had more insights into Google from other books who have done short 1 chapter or so case studies on Google, such as Simplify, then this whole book just on Google was. I really didn’t get anything out of it at all and I do NOT recommend it to anyone.

Review: Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (S)

Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey

“One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of presidents and CEOs, educators and parents—in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations across the world. This twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Stephen Covey’s cherished classic commemorates his timeless wisdom, and encourages us to live a life of great and enduring purpose.”

This book was pretty much as I expected. It’s thick, large, and long, which is good for stopping and starting and sinking into. I liked some parts of it, I think more of the good parts were at the start than the end – this is different from most of the business books I read.

Overall it was fairly good. The downside was its length because you never know when a good bit might come up. So you could be reading a patch of average or just felt like this part could be edited out and condensed and then suddenly be hit with something insightful. A lot of the book at the start dragged out, including the Introduction before even getting to habit one.

The 7 Habits are as follows:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

The 7 habits aren’t particularly new or anything different. But the author does have some different perspectives, points and tips under each one. I found some of these hidden gems and stories under each. But overall the habits are nothing new.

I would recommend it for anyone who is in sales or a leadership role. However the principles could be applied to anyone’s personal life who wants to foster continual learning. I wouldn’t re-read it again but it was good. 4 stars.

Review: Emma Isaacs – The New Hustle (S)

The New Hustle
Don’t work harder, just work better
Emma Isaacs

“What if we’ve been served a big, fat lie about what it takes to be successful at work? Pro-hustlers will tell you living in a work-more, sleep-less world is how we get ahead. But on the back of the pandemic, entrepreneur and Business Chicks founder Emma Isaacs believes the hustle is now dead. Moreover, traditional ways of working – long commutes, unproductive meetings and outdated systems of bureaucracy – actually don’t work at all.”

I liked the ideas behind this book, but I don’t think I liked how it’s structured or how it’s written. I completely agree that a lot of people “hustle” and work for work’s sake when it really should be looking at your output and what’s working best for you. I also liked that it’s new and relevant to life in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Things I didn’t like about it: ‘the stories’ or examples were very short and not in any detail. It seemed to gloss over and be wishy washy and fluffy. Out of the stories that were there, most of them were about the author and not in a vulnerable way but in a way that’s talking herself up and comes across as bragging. What a reader really wants are stories where the author has made mistakes, or from a range of different businesses as examples.

A lot of the ‘rules’ seemed obvious and common sense to me, eg “learn how to say no”, “stand for something”, “stop making excuses”. It’s like the author is trying to empower and motivate you but with no facts and just in a cheerleading way. It also felt like the author was all for girl power, women rights etc, one of the ‘rules’ being “normalise pregnancy” and mentioned throughout. Although I don’t disagree with the principles here, I just don’t feel the need to mention it. I personally haven’t seen this issue in the workplace and never even thought of it as an issue.

Overall you can stop and start it as it doesn’t have much continuity throughout. It’s also a nice easy light read. In saying that though, I don’t think you’ll get much out of it. I’m not exactly sure who its target audience is. Perhaps women who work and have a ‘busy’ (full) life and need to take a step back, or women who need to feel a little more motivated for changes. I recommend Permission to Screw Up instead of this book. 2.5-3 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Paul Whang – Operating Room Confidential

Operating Room Confidential
Paul Whang

“An anesthetist reveals operating room curses and superstitions, the characteristics of a good surgeon, and the patients that doctors fear, in this insider’s view of the fascinating protocols of the operating room and the people who work there.”

This was a medical type non-fiction that was interesting but not riveting. I somehow didn’t realise that anesthesiologists are medical doctors first! I’m not sure how I didn’t know that. Imagine using all of your training to gas people under each day! No, that is a complete disservice. As this book sets out to accomplish, I came out the other end knowing that an anesthetist’s job is actually quite complicated and essential for smooth surgery.

What I wanted were gruesome stories of anesthetics going wrong or interesting horror stories of operations that had gone right from an anesthetics point of view, but very very wrong from the operation (eg. removing the wrong leg!). instead I got a run-down of the different types of surgeon and the types of decisions that are sometimes made when preparing for surgery. Also, an appreciation for how difficult it is to do surgery on some people. If I was in a position where I was going to need surgery, I now know that they can do something for the nausea (easily the worst part for me) and shivers! I just have to make sure to get a very knowledgeable anesthetist…

I definitely wouldn’t buy this book, there is nothing particularly amazing about it that tells me to read it again. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it as reading for anyone unless 1. they are from the USA (many of the medical facts are only relevant to those particular North Americans, and 2. have a keen interest in finding out about all facets of medicine via non-fiction reading.

Review: Meshel Laurie – CSI Told You Lies

CSI Told You Lies
Meshel Laurie

“CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne… Join Meshel Laurie as she goes ‘behind the curtain’ at VIFM, interviewing the Institute’s talented roster of forensic experts about their daily work. Her subjects also include others touched by Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations, including homicide detectives, defense barristers and families of victims as they confront their darkest moments.”

I felt quite conflicted about this book. While I enjoyed some of the history of forensics in Australia, I wasn’t actually that satisfied. I kept pressing through in the hopes that I would get something really interesting from the book (a bit like I did with On a Wing and a Prayer) but I was ultimately disappointed.

Promising me that it’s a book that will give ‘victims a voice through forensics’ makes me think that the forensic scientists will be recreating the picture of what happened when someone died – but not really. It’s not even a complete book of victims who were identified only by forensics – many of the stories are about victims who had already been identified and forensics had very little to do with giving information.

This author may have had an agenda. Later in the book she spends quite a lot of time discussing murders that didn’t need to be solved forensically that are mainly about women who are murdered, the language around their marital status (or job)  and the killers who just needed to kill someone. While I found those stories interesting (and valuable) the forensics involved weren’t key to solving the crime.

The most interesting fact that I learnt was that cruise ships have morgues! That of course then lead me to google it, and it turns out it’s a legal requirement that cruise ships have a morgue (although if they run out of space they put the bodies in a food freezer emptied of icecream).

Reading this sort of book makes me wonder whether I should have gone into a forensics career – and then I realise it’s a lot of anatomy and man, I hate anatomy! I’m going to pass it on to a friend that is also totally into reading about this topic, and hopefully he enjoys it more than I did.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Richard Koch & Greg Lockwood- Simplify (S)

Simplify: How the Best Businesses in the World Succeed
Richard Koch & Greg Lockwood

“Are you ready to become the next market leader? Investor and successful entrepreneur Richard Koch and venture capitalist Greg Lockwood have spent years researching what makes successful companies—such as IKEA, Apple, Uber, and Airbnb—achieve game-changing who status. The answer is simple: They Simplify. Take Your Business from Startup to Game Changer. Start simplifying today.”

This book talks you through two different ways of simplifying your business in terms of your businesses market share and target customers. The two ways are either price or proposition simplifying. I liked the authors’ methods and reasoning, as well as how they explained the two simplifying techniques. They gave in depth examples of 12 businesses which they continued to refer to throughout the book. At some points I wanted to hear an example of another business not the same 12, but at other times it was good to have consistency.

It was great to read an in-depth case study about each business. I always enjoy those parts of the real examples (although I also like allegories – eg. Death by Meeting). However the final chapters in this book seemed quite repetitive. The position that was largely presented was that the authors preferred price simplifying even though their examples were balanced of 6 businesses of each type. Perhaps I just wanted to hear more about the proposition simplifying. Also a lot of the examples or even explanations were on products, where I would have liked to have more service businesses. That being said, a lot of business books are geared more to products in general, so perhaps I set my expectations too high.

I recommend it for anyone in business. At any stage in business you should know what market you are focusing on – this will give you a pertinent reminder to keep it simple. I don’t feel any need to read it again, partly because the authors covered everything well. So 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Review: Phillip Maisel – The Keeper of Miracles

The Keeper of Miracles
Phillip Maisel

“For more than 30 years, Phillip Maisel has worked selflessly to record the harrowing stories of Holocaust survivors. Volunteering at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre, Phillip has listened tirelessly to their memories, preserved their voices and proven, time and time again, just how healing storytelling can be. Each testimony of survival is a miracle in itself – earning Phillip the nickname ‘the Keeper of Miracles’… Published as Phillip turns 99, this deeply moving, healing and inspiring memoir shows us the cathartic power of storytelling and reminds us never to underestimate the impact of human kindness.”

I cannot wrap my mind around the thought that some people try to deny that the Holocaust occurred. There are thousands of people who were affected – not just those that died but those like Phillip who lived through traumatic times and yet came out the other end still as a human. Phillip speaks of this in the book, and the reader is struck by his compassion even to those who are in my own words, ‘idiots’.

This is an intimate look into how Maisel kept himself together and survived the Holocaust, but also how he had paid forward that privilege to help tell the stories of others. As he said, and this sticks with me, it is the fact that all the different memories are recalled differently that adds realism to the picture. I am horrified by the loss of stories and people that has occurred.

I don’t care for history, and I am certainly not an avid reader of World War II history. However I found this book a very moving and thoughtful examination of the Holocaust and a somewhat gentle introduction to the atrocities of the time. I certainly did not realise the extent of Jewish persecution – I admit that in my ignorance I kind of just assumed that Hitler took over Germany and thoroughly persecuted people there, and then not much else – just that it was invaded.

Pan Macmillan | 27th July 2021 | AU$32.99 | hardback

Review: Daniel Coyle – The Culture Code (S)

The Culture Code
The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
Daniel Coyle

“Where does great culture come from? How do you build and sustain it in your group, or strengthen a culture that needs fixing? … Culture is not something you are–it’s something you do. The Culture Code puts the power in your hands. No matter the size of your group or your goal, this book can teach you the principles of cultural chemistry that transform individuals into teams that can accomplish amazing things together.

This book is jam packed with stories from a variety of different businesses and groups. They all work differently yet overall are sharing the same underlying messages. The stories left me giggling at times or wondering more, and were very interesting.

Most of what I learnt from this book wasn’t anything new. But the examples, stories and how it’s told was amazing. The overall messages will be remembered as they are linked through the stories. Each of the 3 main chapter/authors points has a section of “ideas for action” as takeaways for you to apply the knowledge you’ve just learnt. It gives you actionable questions and ways to apply it. Unfortunately, as do a lot of similar books, the actionable items are more so in person and can’t be used in a virtual or work from home environment.

It was still good regardless and basically just for the interesting stories I loved it. [Rose’s note: I can definitely attest to the fact this this was a great book – Suzi giggled her way through the book, and stopped reading multiple times in order to make the reading experience last longer.] 4 stars.