Quick Reviews of Non-Fiction Business Books #3 (S)

The Conversation Yearbook 2017: 50 Standout Articles from Australia’s Top Thinkers – John Watson

I was really hoping this book would be all about fascinating individuals or businesses considered as “top thinkers.” Instead, it’s filled with essays covering topics like climate change, same-sex marriage, public school education, Indigenous issues, and Australian politics – and all of them are from 2017, which makes them feel pretty out-of-date now. A bunch of these essays are just plain boring and hard to get through. I managed to read most of them, but there were a few that I had to skip. Plus, the way the book is organized feels a bit messy. The themed chapters don’t flow together smoothly. If these essays are supposed to represent the best thinking from our top minds, I’m not feeling very optimistic. I’d give it a 2-star rating.

The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite – Duff McDonald

Who would be interested in reading this? It’s essentially a history of Harvard Business School (HBS). It comes across as quite dry and unengaging, and I fail to see its purpose. I initially expected more content related to prominent business figures, akin to a textbook, but even those sections fell short. For instance, when I saw the discussion of Frederick Taylor in Chapter 3, I hoped to have fond memories of his accomplishments for that era. However, this book somehow managed to render his historical contributions as mundane and uninteresting, not reflecting Taylors true significance. I would rate it with only one star, as I was unable to finish it, but I do acknowledge that it might appeal to a different audience, warranting a two-star rating.

Flying Solo: How To Go It Alone in Business Revisited – Robert Gerrish, Sam Leader, Peter Crocker

I found this book to be quite good. It’s an enjoyable read that covers all the basics, so don’t expect groundbreaking insights. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re looking to embark on your journey into self-employment. The book provides essential tools for planning and starting a solo venture, offering a mix of motivational advice and practical strategies. Despite being released a few years ago, the content remains surprisingly relevant. It challenges the old assumptions of the 9-to-5 grind, introducing concepts that are increasingly gaining popularity. The book not only gives you the basics but also includes some practical examples, making it a valuable resource for those considering or already navigating the world of self-employment. 3 stars.

Review: Alexa Hagerty – Still Life with Bones

Still Life with Bones
Alexa Hagerty

“An anthropologist working with forensic teams and victims’ families to investigate crimes against humanity in Latin America explores what science can tell us about the lives of the dead in this haunting account of grief, the power of ritual, and a quest for justice. Working with forensic teams at mass grave sites and in labs, Hagerty discovers how bones bear witness to crimes against humanity and how exhumation can bring families meaning after unimaginable loss. She also comes to see how cutting-edge science can act as ritual—a way of caring for the dead with symbolic force that can repair societies torn apart by violence.”

Sections of this book were haunting. The sheer number of atrocities that have occured under government rule and the ones that are still happening today is almost overwhelming. The people trying to identify their deceased murdered loved ones is heart rending. As Hagerty says, there is no way that all the bones can be identified with the amount of (wo)manpower in the job, and the funding problems and pushbacks of current politicians. It should be a powerful reminder that the story being told is always the one told by those who have gained power – maybe one day a different group of leaders will emerge who make identifying the genocide victims a priority but don’t expect it.

I don’t really know what I expected from this book. Perhaps I was looking for some more scientific / gruesome details. Someone in one of my classes this week showed me a picture of a toe they’d received for molecular testing. I’m always curious about the science, but this book is by a social anthropologist, not a anatomy major! That being said, there were still some interesting points to consider. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how Hagerty drew the stories from the families, and yet she was able to convey the utter shock of accidentally snapping a bone in the next breath.

I’d love to read more by this author – particularly if she starts writing fiction! That being said, this book is honestly horrifying. Humans shouldn’t be able to do that to other humans and get away with it. If reading this book prevents even a single murder, that would be fantastic. If it encourages someone to learn more about forensics and history, that’s also amazing. I highly recommend this non-fiction for anyone who has an interest in history, genocides and forensics.

Hachette | 14th March 2023 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Otto Rosenberg – A Gypsy In Auschwitz

A Gypsy In Auschwitz
How I Survived the Horrors of the ‘Forgotten Holocaust’
Otto Rosenberg

“Otto Rosenberg is 9 and living in Berlin, poor but happy, when his family are first detained. All around them, Sinti and Roma families are being torn from their homes by Nazis , leaving behind schools, jobs, friends, and businesses to live in forced encampments outside the city. One by one, families are broken up, adults and children disappear or are ‘sent East’. Otto arrives in Auschwitz aged 15 and is later transferred to Buechenwald and Bergen-Belsen.”

This is the first Holocaust book I have read that has a gypsy perspective at the heart of it. I think it is unfair however that it’s the ‘forgotten’ Holocaust, because it seems as if it was very similar to Jewish perspectives. The Holocaust was attrocious for any marginalised group in Nazi Germany, and I would hope people hadn’t forgotten about others who suffered.

These Holocaust books, no matter how horrifying, are history that I can appreciate reading (I can’t really say ‘enjoy it’ because the content is awful). I need my history to have people and compelling stories. That being said, there are many stories from this period of history that won’t have survived due to the sheer number of people murdered. I think that these books need to keep being written, and I will probably keep reading them all. They make me feel very grateful for the relatively peaceful life that we Westerners now have. COVID-19 is nothing compared to the Holocaust in sheer scale of human attrocities. Enough said.

It’s non-fiction, so there’s no need for me to give it any stars, but this is a good (but not outstanding) book to add to my catalogue that also includes The School that Escaped the Nazis, The Keeper of Miracles, Always Remember Your Name and The Dressmakers of Auschwitz.

Hachette | 9 August 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Dan Pronk – The Combat Doctor

The Combat Doctor
Dan Pronk

“Dr Dan Pronk served on over 100 combat missions in Afghanistan as a frontline special forces combat doctor, where the casualties he treated were his fellow SAS soldiers and commandos, local civilians and even the enemy. The thrill of adventure and the challenges of battlefield medicine brought out the very best in Dan; he discovered a sense of purpose in pushing his medical skills and courage to the limits. But there was a cost. The Combat Doctor is an extraordinary story of resilience and growth, and a tribute to the doctors and medics working behind the scenes in conflict around the world.”

How can someone so bright, be so dumb? If you are smart enough to get into medical school, surely you are smart enough to realise that military retaliation isn’t actually a bright idea most of the time. I understand the incredible and exciting challenge that you need to undertake to get into the special forces, but at the same time uh, isn’t creating long term medical problems like a bung knee a problem? It seems like a bit of a boys’ club, and that was always going to put my back up.

I find it extraordinary and rather depressing that millions of dollars are pumped into the military. If we are looking at the number of lives saved by an intervention, surely something like the medical problems described in Frontline Midwife would be a better use of funding. The more I think about it, the more upset I feel.

Oh dear. I saw that Hamish Blake had read and given a review and I was seriously worried about the book from then onwards. I guess I was hoping that this would have juicy details on how combat medicine actually works in terms of common injuries or treatments. What I got was a fresh face on the deaths that have occurred in the Australian military in quite recent history. It’s pointless! We live in Australia, I’m pretty sure that noone wants to invade here. The worst threat we’ve had are fires that needed the Navy to evacuate people.

I wouldn’t recommend this as reading. However, if someone else is super keen on the military and you want them to read SOMETHING then perhaps this is a good pick. It’s not badly written, it’s quite a good read, I guess I just disagree with the need for it.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

Review: Deborah Cadbury – The School that Escaped the Nazis

The School that Escaped the Nazis
Deborah Cadbury

“The extraordinary true story of a courageous school principal who saw the dangers of Nazi Germany and took drastic steps to save those in harm’s way. In 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, schoolteacher Anna Essinger saved her small, progressive school from Nazi Germany. Anna had read Mein Kampf and knew the terrible danger that Hitler’s hate-fueled ideologies posed to her pupils, so she hatched a courageous and daring plan: to smuggle her school to the safety of England.”

This book is again a tribute to all of the children and their families murdered during the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. I found myself again horrified at the sheer number of children murdered in the Holocaust. This book flips between the school as it is established in Britain, and then into its students’ origins as well. There are some children who survived largely in the ‘wild’ of Germany, and we also see their perspective.

This is not nearly as confronting as Always Remember your Name, thankfully. It’s an interesting read, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in alternative schooling perspectives as well as those who would like to further broaden their understanding of the traumas visited on children during the wars.

It is becoming more and more obvious and acknowledged in society today that children often suffer from trauma that has repercussions throughout their lifetimes – and which may never be resolved. It is the same for the adults who managed to survive and that may never be able to recover. This can also be seen in the novel The Little Wartime Library, which briefly narrates what one of the incarcerated adults looked like after the freeing of POWs.

Reading this book was heavy going at times and it took me a number of sittings to digest it. I’m normally not interested in history, but I’m not sure that can be said of me any more! I have read quite a few books about the Holocaust now, including Always Remember Your Name, The Dressmakers of Auschwitz and The Keeper of Miracles. I have yet another waiting on my bedside table for me to read.

Hachette | 10 May 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Andra and Tatiana Bucci – Always Remember Your Name

Always Remember Your Name
Andra and Tatiana Bucci

“A haunting WWII memoir of two sisters who survived Auschwitz that picks up where Anne Frank’s Diary left off and gives voice to the children we lost. … An unforgettable narrative of the power of sisterhood in the most extreme circumstances, and of how a mother’s love can overcome the most impossible odds, the Bucci sisters’ memoir is a timely reminder that separating families is an inexcusable evil.”

I have been ‘enjoying’ a number of non-fiction novels lately about the Holocaust. I say ‘enjoying’, but really they are quite sad reads due to the devastating loss of life as a result of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. I found myself horrified and yet not surprised at the level of brutality exhibited by the Nazi’s. It’s one thing to have a critical idea of World War II (as I’ve said before, my history knowledge is poor) and another to really experience it as these writers did.

To hear that 230,000 children were deported, and that less than 200 survived is horrific. No, that’s not a typo. Somewhat confusingly perhaps, the book blurb suggests that all of these children were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death. This was not the case – the majority of children were simply gassed to death because they were deemed to be useless. Andra and Tatiana remain together because they are thought to be twins – and remembering their names is crucial in being able to return them to their parents many years later.

I am haunted by the last fact I learnt in The Keeper of Miracles – some people don’t believe that the Holocaust happened. This makes it all the more important to keep publishing, promoting and researching literature about this catastrophic loss of more than six million lives. This book should be higher on the high school reading list than the iconic fiction book of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which has noticeable inconsistencies with the real events of the Holocaust) or the very dense memoir If This is a Man. Always Remember Your Name gets full stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 20 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Lucy Adlington – The Dressmakers of Auschwitz

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz
The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive
Lucy Adlington

“At the height of the Holocaust twenty-five young inmates of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – mainly Jewish women and girls – were selected to design, cut, and sew beautiful fashions for elite Nazi women in a dedicated salon. It was work that they hoped would spare them from the gas chambers… Weaving the dressmakers’ remarkable experiences within the context of Nazi policies for plunder and exploitation, historian Lucy Adlington exposes the greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Third Reich and offers a fresh look at a little-known chapter of World War II and the Holocaust.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel approach to World War II history in a way that made it approachable and interesting to me. For anyone who has an interest in fashion this book is going to be a great read. The author clearly had favourites! The key two women presented in a favourable light were Hanyu, who she presents as fearless and spunky, and Marta, who is compassionate for her team.

I have to complain a little that I found the multiple narrative perspectives difficult to follow. I would have much preferred that each chapter approached what a single woman faced at a time, particularly near the end. I couldn’t work out who died, or who lost their entire family – but perhaps this was deliberate to highlight the sheer number of murders in this book.

There is a lot of background information before we get to the part where the women make dresses! Since I was expecting it to focus on the fashions and specific circumstances of the dressmakers, I spent the first half of the book waiting for ‘action’. This was shallow of me, as I did learn a lot of facts about the Holocaust from a woman’s perspective, which I think has been unstudied/undiscussed in this area of work.

The old adage is that truth is stranger to fiction – in this case non-fiction is horrific enough that it’s not necessary to read a fictional horror novel! I find myself still better fascinated with true history such as this book and the upcoming Always Remember Your Name, or The Keeper of Miracles, rather than fictional novels set in the time of World War II. That being said, I did read The Kitchen Front recently which of course had a rather simplistic happy ending.

Hachette | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

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: Di Websdale-Morrissey – On a Wing and a Prayer

On a Wing and a Prayer
Di Websdale-Morrissey

“In 1934, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor announced a London-to-Melbourne air race to celebrate his city’s centenary. The audacious plan captured imaginations across the globe: newspapers and magazines everywhere were filled with it; the world’s pilots scrambled to get sponsorship; and the organisers scrambled to get the rules straight and permission to fly in foreign air space. Sixty-four entrants from eleven countries signed up, but only twenty planes eventually took off on 20 October 1934. The winner arrived in Melbourne seventy-one hours later—but three planes crashed and two pilots died in the attempt.”

I’m not 100% sure what I expected in this book. I initially didn’t pick it up to read because I thought it was a fiction novel and it triggered memories of Jackie Chan’s film, Around the World in 90 Days. However, when I finally picked it up I found an interesting non-fiction about an event I’m sure many people know nothing of!

While the blurb tries to draw in a reader with the fable of Albury saving the Uiver, this is really quite a small portion of the book. The book is written sensitively and clearly, and deals fairly with all of the pilots in the race. Not only does it have the details of the race, it also has the back story and the endings (ie. ongoing lives and deaths of those involved in the race). As usual for many of Text’s books, there are some beautiful colour photographs reproduced lovingly to illustrate and bring the characters to life.

This book is going to suit anyone with a love of engineering, planes and Australian history! It’s written in a nice engaging manner, and even someone like me who can’t care less about history can enjoy it. It’s a very suitable present for the plane fanatic in your life.

Text Publishing | 3rd September 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Timothy C Winegard – The Mosquito

The Mosquito
Timothy C Winegard

“Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution? The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.”

It’s that time of year where I try to purge the books that haven’t been read in a year from my shelf. Several have somehow missed by rader – perhaps I couldn’t face this one with another epidemic going on. I can think back to the end of 2019 and remember that I was very grateful that COVID-19 wasn’t vector-borne, because that would make it almost impossible to eradicate. Unfortunately, life a year on suggests that there is still more disease to deal with (as I write this review, the first vaccines are being administered in the USA).

Nevertheless, this is an interesting, if somewhat dense, book about vector-borne diseases – specifically those transmitted by mosquitoes. I somehow didn’t get past the introduction and first chapter, probably because my background as a mosquito scientist. There is a focus on malaria, which is of course the most ‘popular’ disease. My own mosquito-borne disease choice is dengue, so I wasn’t as wrapped in it. Dengue is an emerging epidemic, so it’s not really mentioned in here.

The chapter titles of this book are quite inspired! Unfortunately, for me it eventually turned out that I didn’t finish reading it. It truly was a history rather than a science-filled narrative of the mosquito. I’m just not that keen on history (coming from someone who thought that the ‘cold war’ was cold because it snows in Russian…).

A really cool fact I learn from this book was that malaria was used in the 1920s to treat syphilis! The guy that thought of the idea got a Nobel prize, and so people would line up to be given malaria in order to treat their STI. Then a couple of years later we discovered antibiotics, thank goodness!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a hardback at this price point, but sadly it isn’t. It’s solid book that is going to be the perfect gift for someone who loves history.

Text Publishing | 20 October 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback