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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Business (page 1 of 2)

Fukushima and the Coming Tokyo Earthquake by Tony Smyth

This book details the story of two earthquakes, one that has already happened and one that is imminent, and their consequences, not only for Japan but also for the rest of the world. It is structured in a way that ‘chunks up’ in sections, from local/national events through to global consequences.
The first section of the book tells the story of how a country that suffered atomic bombing ended up obtaining a third of its electricity from nuclear power, despite having the misfortune to be located in the most seismically active zone in the world. It then depicts the sequence of what happened in March 2011 after the tsunami struck.
Next, the book details recent peer-reviewed studies about radiation and its effect on human health. The following chapter reveals the full costs of nuclear power– an energy source that never comes in on budget and is incredibly expensive. The final part of this section of the book describes the inadequacy of storing spent nuclear fuel once a nuclear power station has been decommissioned.
The latter half of the book adopts a larger frame or viewpoint and looks at the use of nuclear and renewable energy in the context of world climate change and the widespread use of fossil fuels.
The final section of the book depicts a coming Tokyo earthquake and its consequences. A big earthquake in or near Tokyo is overdue. They usually happen every sixty to seventy years, yet the last one was in 1923. The author asserts that Japan will have to repatriate much of its treasury bonds which are held in the United States. The tsunami and meltdowns of 2011 represent the most expensive natural disaster in history. Even though Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, because of an estimated debt from the tsunami and Fukushima meltdowns of at least $500 million and weak indebted economy, it will struggle to pay this amount. The most obvious way to pay for rebuilding will be to sell stocks and treasury bonds held in the United States.
An earthquake striking Tokyo will hit right at the nerve centre of the country. All political and economic power is concentrated there.The headquarters of many global 500 companies, as well as all the powerful bureaucracies so vital to the country, are located in one central section of the capital. Most of Japan’s imports and exports are dispatched through Tokyo Bay. After a big quake, this area is likely to be crippled for some time. Moreover, much of Tokyo’s manufacturing takes place on reclaimed land in the Bay – land which tends to liquefy in a big quake.
This book argues that because of the fragile situation of world economies since 2008 (Lehman Bros etc), and the heavily indebted state of Japan’s finances post-tsunami/Fukushima, the only way that Japan will appeal to finance the enormous amount of post-quake rebuilding is to repatriate its investment in US government bonds and securities. This will have an immediate knock-on effect on the American economy and, soon after, most of the world’s economies.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this book!

Tony Smyth has done his research. This book is full of facts and figures, with a good deal of opinion thrown in as well. His writing style is not too fussy, so I got into the cadence of words quickly while remaining interested throughout the litany of numbers. First off, I learned a good deal about seismic activity and how the buildings in Japan are created to withstand earthquakes. Some structures have fluid filled “shock absorbers” or sliding walls while others have complex structural cross-bracing which is designed to buckle while absorbing seismic energy.

Despite these measures, nothing could prevent the nuclear meltdown that occurred at the Fukushima power plant because there was no way to protect against the tsunami that devastated the area post-quake. Thousands of lives were lost, towns were washed away, and the land was (and still is) overrun with radioactive isotopes.

The author notes that the total costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns of 2011 make those events the world’s most expensive natural disaster. There are a lot of absolutes in this book, yet the author remains fairly neutral about nuclear power. There are plenty of reasons (global warming, cost of disposal, impact on the planet) to seek out alternatives, yet Smyth balances his words well and merely uses them as a warning, not a condemnation. More concerning are the politics of how the reactors came to be, regardless of the fact that many of them are superfluous.

The author speaks from experience; he lives in Japan and is familiar with the socio-economic climate and Japanese culture. Despite the business-heavy title, each facet of the country and the disaster is discussed in plain language that cannot help but affect the reader. Smyth heavily includes the human element, with heart-wrenching stories of parents waiting in vain for their children to get home or children worried about their elderly parents in the flood zone.

My main takeaway from this book was not fear for the future of Japanese business; instead it was fear for the future of mankind and our planet. The section of the book concerning global warming was extremely edifying, and as a result I will personally make an effort to reduce my global footprint.

I feel this is an important book to read on so many levels. Please pick up your copy here.

 

Walmart: Diary of an Associate by Hugo Meunier

In 2012, journalist Hugo Meunier went undercover as a Walmart employee for three months in St. Leonard, Quebec, just north of Montreal.
In great detail, Meunier charts the daily life of an impoverished Walmart worker, referring to his shifts at the box store giant as “somewhere between the army and Walt Disney.” Each shift began with a daily chant before bowing to customer demands and the constant pressure to sell. Meanwhile Meunier and his fellow workers could not afford to shop anywhere else but Walmart, further indenturing them to the multi-billion-dollar corporation.
Beyond his time on the shop floor, Meunier documents the extraordinary efforts that Walmart exerts to block unionization campaigns, including their 2005 decision to close their outlet in Jonquiere, QC, where the United Food and Commercial Workers union had successfully gained certification rights. A decade later he charts the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that exposed the dubious legal ground on which Walmart stood in invoking closure and throwing workers out on the street.
In Walmart: Diary of an Associate, Meunier reveals the truths behind Walmart’s low prices; it will make you think twice before shopping there.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Walmart is famous throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico for its low prices. However, they are also famous for low wages and demanding, wacky customers. (A glance at the site PeopleOfWalmart.com may tell you all you need to know). In this book, journalist Hugo Meunier goes undercover for 3 months as a Walmart associate, then emerges to tell us all about the good, the bad, and the ugly behind the scenes.

The corporation at the top is a warm, family-oriented company. At the store level, it is a place where low pay and hard work go hand in hand. There are stories of employees who cannot afford good food, despite the generous 10% off card they are given. There is an almost cultlike atmosphere in team meetings each morning (Give me a W! Give me an A! Give me an L …) and each associate is encouraged to tattle on those team members who “steal time”. Heavy, heavy emphasis is placed on the customer always being right, with posters in the break room exhorting staff to remember that “The most important person you will meet is your next customer”. Meunier portrays the clientele as brutish, demanding, and thankless. That sounds like most customers in retail – but to hear the author’s inner monologue as he complies with their demands is funny. This monologue will also be familiar to those who work in any service industry.

Something struck me amongst all the descriptions of hard work, lazy colleagues, clueless managers, and low pay. The author is someone with a good paying job and a high-end lifestyle – so the juxtaposition between his real job and his Walmart job is telling. He even notes that he misses sleeping in and not having to punch a clock.  Perhaps the most elitist moment is when he notes the difference between Walmart’s and his newspaper’s holiday party. One is filled with wine, truffles and caviar…and the other is not. Can you guess which is which? His reassuring thoughts to himself are that soon he will be able to leave the world of Walmart behind and return to his normal, happy, financially secure life. As he described his fatigue, aching feet and lack of sleep I thought to myself, This is what most of the US consists of – perhaps there needs to be reform?

Speaking of reform, Walmart believes unions are anathema and supports the illegal practice of squashing union talk. On the surface they claim to be open-minded, yet there is a top secret procedure that managers need to follow immediately when they hear talk of organizing. The final chapters of the book describe a hard-fought battle between the retail giant and some employees who wanted to unionize. If most of the book did not depress you, this portion will.

Most of the blurbs that surround this book note that you will never think of Walmart in the same way again. I will say that I wasn’t that surprised at some of the things I learned, except for the way the store demands associates interact with customers. I have never been smiled at or addressed first at my local store – perhaps it is a kinder world in Canada.

Final thoughts – this book is a quick and easily digested read about the class difference and extreme profit seeking of a major corporation. I would have liked if the author followed up in 6 months with his former co-workers to provide a bit more closure to his readers. In any case, it will be interesting to see how/if Walmart responds to the book (despite the fact that it came out a while ago in Canada and was recently translated to English).

You can pick up your own copy here.

The Closer by Shaz Kahng

The decision was irreversible. . .Vivien would become either the most remarkable female executive in the sports industry, or the biggest failure.
Vivien Lee has spent her entire consulting career helping CEO’s look good, so when she finally has the chance to go after her dream of running a business, she grabs it. A lifelong athlete, Vivien arrives at the Smart Sports campus in Portland, Oregon and is introduced as the first female president. It’s one of the highest-profile jobs in an industry inhospitable to women. Principled but slightly naive, Vivien believes her male peers will give her a fair shot.


Stumbling early, Vivien makes a series of rookie mistakes. With guidance from the Ceiling Smashers, a secret society of successful professional women, Vivien learns to navigate the treacherous business terrain. A tight-knit group of male sports executives is determined to show that an industry outsider cannot prevail. The challenge is all too clear: will Vivien triumph in the sports industry against impossible odds?
You’ll want to stay up all night to find out what happens to Vivien and share her inspiring story with your friends. This is a fresh, riveting tale about a strong woman endeavoring to succeed with smarts, scruples, and style.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book caught my eye because it was advertised in a runner’s blog. The plot is not mainly about athletic ability; it’s about a businesswoman trying to break through the glass ceiling at a fictional Nike rival. It began with the main character, Vivien, being lauded at her job for solving crises and rescuing sales accounts in danger of being lost. This part sets the stage to show Vivien as an overachieving Type A that succeeds at everything she does. All her friends are equally perfect, having MBA’s from the Wharton School, shiny hair, and stunning wardrobes. It began to be too much for me, and the book was almost a DNF. There was a lot of girl conversation and wine; then the plot twist saved the day – Vivien quits her job as a consultant to move across the country to work for Smart Sports in Portland.

Things improved a great deal with the change of venue. There was less perfection and more struggle, with the glass ceiling in full effect. Misogynistic coworkers lay traps for Vivien, which she occasionally falls into. I had a hard time believing someone so savvy could be tricked like that. She was way too trusting – I kept thinking about how obviously the men were plotting against her and she was just trying to be “friends” with them.

The best part of the book for me was reading about the clothing and shoes, and how they were designed and marketed. Second best was seeing Vivien out-think the men, despite treachery  and politics everywhere. It’s too bad that this book is designed to appeal to women; more men should be reading about the struggles that we face in the business and sports world. None of these things seemed over the top or impossible; I’m sure that the author is writing from personal experience, with names changed to protect the guilty.

There is satisfaction as Vivien lives to fight another day against the evil male empire, but I may not be picking up the second book in the series. It’s enough that I live it, I don’t want to read about it.

Having said that – this book is recommended for its erudite and resilient main character. Chick lit fans should grab this to experience a different kind of strong woman. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0998656607″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

HOW TO BE AN EVEN BETTER MANAGER by Michael Armstrong

 

This new edition of How to be an Even Better Manager covers 50 topics organized into three key areas in which every manager needs to be competent: managing people, managing activities and processes, and managing and developing oneself. With new chapters on how to learn, achieve continuous improvement, foster engagement, make a business case, and prepare a business plan, this is an up-to-date handbook for existing and aspiring managers.
How to be an Even Better Manager provides sound guidelines that will help readers develop a broad base of managerial skills and knowledge and build on existing skills. Even the most experienced manager needs to keep abreast of new developments and brush up on essential skills. This new edition will continue to be a valuable aid.

 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an review!

New managers are inundated with books to read and advice from well meaning coworkers. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the best use of your time and which books to read. HOW TO BE AN EVEN BETTER MANAGER is not a new book per se; it’s been updated and modernized for today’s work world. The original edition has sold over 170,000 copies worldwide, so you know this is advice that gets results.

Wondering how to promote a learning culture? How to have those difficult conversations with an underperforming associate? How to gain confidence and engage your team? This book has those answers, and more!

There are 5 sections: Managing People, Developing People, Management Skills, Personal Skills, and Business and Financial Management. Armstrong provides a guideline for the new and seasoned manager alike by putting forth situations (something went wrong, here is how to fix it) in simple language with reasons why this works.

Another great thing about this book is that you don’t have to read it from chapter to chapter – you can pick and choose what you need to know and get to that section quickly. The sections are not overly long and are digested easily.

The final chapter gives an overview of reading balance sheets, financial ratios and what they are used for. I found this wonderful because a lot of beginner management books never touch on the money aspect of things; they just show you how to be more of a people person.

Taking a few moments each night to read a few pages at a time will help fledgling managers immensely, as well as encourage “old hats” to try some new things and think outside the box.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0749471549″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

No Limits – Blow The Cap Off Your Capacity

no limits

#1 New York Times bestselling author John C. Maxwell’s latest book will enhance the lives of leaders, professionals, and anyone who wants to achieve success and personal growth. We often treat the word capacity as if it were a natural law of limitation. Unfortunately, most of us are much more comfortable defining what we perceive as off limits rather than what’s really possible. Could it be that many of us have failed to expand our potential because we have allowed what we perceive as capacity to define us? What if our limits are not really our limits? In his newest book, John Maxwell identifies 17 core capacities. Some of these are abilities we all already possess, such as energy, creativity and leadership. Others are aspects of our lives controlled by our choices, like our attitudes, character, and intentionality. Maxwell examines each of these capacities, and provides clear and actionable advice on how you can increase your potential in each. He will guide you on how to identify, grow, and apply your critical capacities. Once you’ve blown the “cap” off your capacities, you’ll find yourself more successful–and fulfilled–in your daily life.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

If you are feeling down, all you need to do is pick up a John C. Maxwell book and you are guaranteed to become empowered fast. To me, there is nothing greater than the mini pep talks on every page.

So many books encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and work on learning new things. In this latest work by the management genius, Maxwell tells you how to increase your capacity by concentrating on things you are good at. I found this refreshing and unique. Most of us take our strengths for granted and concentrate on things we struggle with, hoping to get better at them. Imagine if you worked on things you ARE good at; how much better would you be with practice?

Some of Maxwell’s suggestions are easily implemented, such as always assuming there is a solution to a problem, discussing your ideas with mentors before they are “perfect” and using your gifts to help others who may need a push forward.

I believe you are always learning and growing. Maxwell holds the same view – no matter what you are doing, there are always things you can take away to benefit either yourself or others. His writing style is clear without being preachy, with generous examples thrown in using real people and actual situations.

On every page you can find a phrase or sentence that can be used as a daily affirmation or work focus point – which is the golden part of this book. I fully intend to buy a hard copy and highlight the things I find valuable.

The author’s love of inspiring others shines through loud and clear. He has created an empire of empowerment with his books and lectures, and you can tell he truly loves his fellow man. No one cares more about your personal growth than Maxwell, and that is refreshing.  He’s like a businessman’s Mr Rogers – no judgement, always upbeat and full of confidence.

Simon Sinek is all about the “why”, while John Maxwell is about the “how”. The combined information from these books creates a powerful message for managers, which in turn creates a harmonious and wondrous work message for staff.

This latest book is truly a winner! You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1455548286″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young

sucess

It’s only because they like me. I was in the right place at the right time. I just work harder than the others. I don’t deserve this. It’s just a matter of time before I am found out. Someone must have made a terrible mistake.

If you are a working woman, chances are this inter­nal monologue sounds all too familiar. And you’re not alone. From the high-achieving Ph.D. candidate convinced she’s only been admitted to the program because of a clerical error to the senior executive who worries others will find out she’s in way over her head, a shocking number of accomplished women in all ca­reer paths and at every level feel as though they are faking it—impostors in their own lives and careers.
While the impostor syndrome is not unique to women, women are more apt to agonize over tiny mistakes, see even constructive criticism as evi­dence of their shortcomings, and chalk up their accomplishments to luck rather than skill. They often unconsciously overcompensate with crippling perfec­tionism, overpreparation, maintaining a lower pro­file, withholding their talents and opinions, or never finishing important projects. When they do succeed, they think, Phew, I fooled ’em again.
An internationally known speaker, Valerie Young has devoted her career to understanding women’s most deeply held beliefs about themselves and their success. In her decades of in-the-trenches research, she has uncovered the often surprising reasons why so many accomplished women experience this crushing self-doubt.
In The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Young gives these women the solution they have been seek­ing. Combining insightful analysis with effective ad­vice and anecdotes, she explains what the impostor syndrome is, why fraud fears are more common in women, and how you can recognize the way it mani­fests in your life. With her empowering, step-by-step plan, you will learn to take ownership of your success, overcome self-doubt, and banish the thought patterns that undermine your ability to feel—and act—as bright and capable as others already know you are.

Have you ever felt that you didn’t deserve that job you have? Or the grades in school, or praise from peers? Do you feel as if there was a mistake somehow, and you are not as good as others say you are? You are not alone; you may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome.

Many high-achieving women feel as if they got something they didn’t deserve, and are waiting to be “found out”. I picked up this book because I was recently promoted, and still couldn’t believe that I was the “one in charge” – and was sure once I was in the job for a little while, I would be “found out” to be incompetent. At times I felt like a child playing at being grown up.

The author was plagued by similar thoughts – instead of faking it til she made it, she decided to do research into this emerging phenomenon. She came to realize that many things come together to cause this self doubt in women: being “feminine” means not being “bossy”, interacting with men on an uneven playing field causes women to shrink from conflict and quietly overcompensate, plus the emotional makeup of the female means constructive criticism sounds like denigration.

It almost sounds like a given that being successful and a woman means you are in for a lot of self doubt. The author is aware of this, and offers many uplifting thoughts along the way. She takes every excuse that you have, every reason that cements your failure, and cancels them out with infallible stories and truths that help banish the deadly Impostor. Her tone is never judgemental, but encouraging.

Some of her anecdotes are eye opening. There was one comparing two managers who were given a project; one they knew nothing about. One shrunk back and said they couldn’t do it, the other got through it by convincing everyone that they had the background to handle the project. The difference? The first one was a woman, the second, a man. How many times have we heard a man bluster his way through things, and if he fails, he just laughs it off and tries again? Why can’t a woman do this?

The author encourages you to change your mindset by replacing crippling thoughts with positive ones, and offers activities at the end of every chapter to show you that no, you are not a fake. Her style is easy to read while getting her point across in a powerful way. I felt as if I had an older sister who put her arm around me and gave me a push in the right direction!

This is not a book you can skim through; I think it would work best by digesting the chapters slowly while doing a good deal of self reflection. Years of a certain thought pattern doesn’t go away easily, and the author acknowledges this. Everything takes practice. Thanks to this book, banishing the Impostor Syndrome is something I do every day!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00DEKR52E” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

happiness

Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe.
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, who spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, draws on his own research—including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and others at companies like UBS and KPMG—to fix this broken formula. Using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor explains how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work.
Isolating seven practical, actionable principles that have been tried and tested everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms, stretching from Argentina to Zimbabwe, he shows us how we can capitalize on the Happiness Advantage to improve our performance and maximize our potential.

 

I was told about this book at a management seminar; almost immediately I ordered it from Amazon.

The author’s writing is clear and often self deprecatingly funny. He uses relevant stories to illustrate his points, and offers reasons that explain the “why” of why being happy makes things better.

Before I read this book, I was personally aware of a phenomenon in my own life: since changing jobs I was a lot happier, and things always seemed to go my way in that new job. This book seemed to be about my own life changes! We all have that mindset that “once I get this job, I’ll be happy”, and for me, it was the reverse. My job made me happy, and I had that spill over in the rest of my life. There were promotions, responsibilities, knowledge, and success for me. Was this all due to my happiness? Or was it my hard work that did it?

In any case; THE HAPPINESS ADVANTAGE should be required reading for anyone wondering how they can make their life better. Imagine a world where everyone was smiling at each other – Achor tells a story of how people became more engaged with each other as they took a moment to smile at and acknowledge their co-workers. This is similar to the management adage that the boss sets the tone of the office; if the boss comes in and is happy, the office is happy and more productive. This makes perfect sense and I’m quite sure this would work almost everywhere.

One of the great things about this book is that each chapter is a separate point. It’s easy to reach a chapter and then go out in the world to practice the tenets he puts forth. As  you get further into the book you will want to search your own life for signs of happiness, and then create more of it in your personal circle. It’s not a sappy self help book; it’s an encouraging way to look inward and understand the workings of your mind in such a way to truly make a change for the better.

Don’t have time to read? (Horrors!) You can also catch some TED talks with Shawn Achor – he is super personable and makes relevant points in an entertaining and thoughtful way.

You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”B015QK3RB2″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Magic And Loss by Virginia Heffernan

magic-and-loss

Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does.
Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

To say, “All that is old is new again,” is that same as saying the inverse: “All that is new is old, again.” Note the comma. For Virginia Heffernan, the author of the highly-cerebral Magic and Loss, the critical characteristic of new technologies that supplant their predecessors is not whatever category by which they are categorically different from their parentages. Instead of committing the intellectually lazy act of declaring that a boundary separating incrementalism from interspectralism has been overcome, she presents the compelling thesis that our tech does little to change what is fundamental to our social consciousness. For all time, our technology has been an imperfect mirror.

From the invention of controlled fire up to the present, that mirror has become increasingly exacting in the image of ourselves that it produces. In the United States alone, this mirror now employs over 110,000 miles of heavy fiber-optic cable, and millions of miles of regional and local cable lines. It promotes the easy, pervasive distribution of photos, videos, and alarming, clickbaiting articles. It provides no built-in buffer time for public expression or reactive thoughts and feelings. Pariahs who would have lived in the shadows a generation ago now enjoy the warmth of like minds. Together, they take their seats at the table of public discourse. If we look different today than we did before the internet, it’s because we can see ourselves my clearly. The mirror changed. We did not.

This point, and many others which are related and equally profound, are trotted out in Magic and Loss with language that is never more vigorous than the subject matter seems to warrant. There is a maturity in the voice of this book that lends extra weight to sentences that contain a blow, that serrates the edges of words that cut. Early on, she quotes author Bruce Sterling: “Poor folk love their cell phones.” Heffernan comments: “Connectivity is poverty, eh? Only the poor, defined broadly as those without better options, are obsessed with connections… The connections that feel like wealth to many of us – call us the impoverished, we who brave Facebook ads and privacy concerns – are in fact meager, more meager even than inflated dollars.”

Every word cuts, and especially so if she’s describing you. She’s not cutting for the sake of cutting. She cutting so that you’ll understand that you’re involved in the issues she’s talking about. Heffernan cuts sparingly, but when she does, no word is chosen arbitrarily. That you are more meager than the inflated dollar that pays for your eyeballs should remind you that you aren’t even the consumer. You’re the product.

Finally, Heffernan’s writing is dripping with only the best influences. She quotes Walter Benjamin multiple times, and the structure of the overall work feels like what part of The Arcades Project might have been like had Benjamin lived to finish it. She drops series of short sentences here and there that taste like passages of Theodore Adorno’s Minima Moralia. What an intellectual joy to read this book was!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1439191700″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

The End Of The Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher

End-of-the-Suburbs-for-web

 

“The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore.”

For nearly 70 years, the suburbs were as American as apple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and cars became more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in the suburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense, polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home in a bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage and a commute to the office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epic housing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern of development, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal and demographic forces has culminated in a Perfect Storm that has led to a profound shift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, but Gallagher’s research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Consider some of the forces at work:

• The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while the single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
• We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today’s younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
• Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting, Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including the charismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan who quit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzi scheme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whose punishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her desk in her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shifts taking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housing landscape and of our society itself—and why that future will bring us stronger, healthier, happier and more diverse communities for everyone.

Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs is a book of social history in the same vein as, and of similar caliber to, the ancestral classic of its genre, Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. Like that book, this one avoids several of my pet peeves. It shuns ostentatious language in favor of highly function, dense, understandable sentences. No word seems to be solely dedicated to creating emphasis without also fleshing out the meaning of what is being said.  The discipline in research displayed in this book, unfortunately, did not match the the discipline in language.

I understand that it is unfair to expect of any book the thorough and relentless inclusion of data and primary source material provided by Mr. Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier. However, I must note that the difference in reading experiences between these two books is probably founded in this lack. In Crabgrass, the reader doesn’t feel like he or she is being convinced of anything. There is hardly any deductive step in that wonderful book about which the reader must say, “I’ll give Mr. Jackson that one.” Instead, Mr. Jackson would support a statement with publicly accessible data or primary source material, deduce something from that statement, and then support the deduction with MORE data or primary source material. What is different in Gallagher’s work is that reading it is like crossing a bridge of ordinary construction, with what looks to me like enough structural support to safely get me from one side to the other. But hey, what do I know? I don’t build bridges for a living, and she does, so I’ll trust her and drive over the bridge. Reading Mr. Jackson’s book is like driving on what seems to be an ordinary road on solid ground, and then have your rendezvous partner at the end of your journey ask, “How was your passage over the river?” You reply, “There was a river?”

If you don’t mind deductive passages spanning fractions of entire chapters without references to sources (and I imagine that most will not mind) there is much to love in the potentially mind-expanding subject matter here. Mrs. Gallagher connects the decline in childhood outdoor activity not to the advent of television and electronic entertainment, but to changes in the design of suburban landscapes. She investigates the pressures of the Millennial generation on the demand for suburban accommodation, and she provides a rich historical backdrop for the future she predicts. The average reader of Mrs. Gallagher’s book will finish it much more informed about American modern history, demographics, architectonics, and demographics than he or she was before. Furthermore, the relative paucity of primary source material helps to make The End of the Suburbs more fluidly readable than Crabgrass Frontier. This accessibility, and Mrs. Gallagher’s lighter tone, will hearten her work to more casual readers than myself, i.e. nearly everyone.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B00HTKAEDM” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

ELON MUSK by Ashlee Vance

musk

There are few industrialists in history who could match Elon Musk’s relentless drive and ingenious vision. A modern alloy of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs, Musk is the man behind PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity, each of which has sent shock waves throughout American business and industry. More than any other executive today, Musk has dedicated his energies and his own vast fortune to inventing a future that is as rich and far-reaching as a science fiction fantasy.

In this lively, investigative account, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance offers an unprecedented look into the remarkable life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious businessman. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family, and his friends, the book traces his journey from his difficult upbringing in South Africa to his ascent to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than fifty hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to three hundred people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies and to paint a portrait of a complex man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation–all while making plenty of enemies along the way.

Until I read Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk, my impression of Musk was that he was one of these hyper-efficient Silicon Valley boy geniuses who figured that being somewhat irreverent in the media would be advantageous to him. I’m cynical. What can I say?

Now, having read the book, I feel that the irreverence we see from Musk (in interviews and elsewhere)  is less manipulation than it is restraint. Vance has painted Musk as a passionate, brilliant man who would rather end up poor than not have a hand in advancing the industries where he thinks he can make a unique difference. He’s not just crazy by the standards of us mortals, who consider it a good month if we pay all of our bills and have enough left over to buy a gadget or something. After cashing out of his first company, PayPal, in a world where buying a single Cold War-era Russian rocket cost his entire net worth, he decided to design his own instead. You, me, and every other sane person would have said, “I suppose I won’t be starting an orbital shipping company today. Time to go find something to do that’s actually possible.” Elon Musk started SpaceX, and today he’s manufacturing reusable rockets.

This bio isn’t just a rundown of Musk’s accomplishments and the obstacles he conquered on the way. Vance’s account fleshes out the characters in Musk’s story with interviews and investigative fact-finding. Broad foreshadowing and perspective throughout kept me engaged. Impressive stylistic choices peppered throughout the prose brought the locales where Musk’s adventures play out to life. A particular description stood out to me – Musk’s team had recently moved their rocket testing operation to an island called Kwaj that the United States military had used to test Star Wars technology in the 70’s and 80’s:

“The military presence resulted in a weird array of buildings including hulking, windowless trapezoidal concrete structures clearly conceived by someone who deals with death for a living.”

This description punctuates the contrast between the status quo of the arena Musk was entering, and the vision he had for its future. It doesn’t just say what the place looked like, but makes me feel like I understand how it must have felt to be there. Vance is equally adept at selecting vignettes that effectively drive home her point. She included Boeing engineer-turned-SpaceX employee Jeremy Hollman’s anecdote about the ennui-inducing directionlessness on offer from SpaceX’s competitors:

“…Boeing completed its merger with McDonnell Douglass. The resultant mammoth government contractor held a picnic to boost morale but ended up failing at even this simple exercise. ‘The head of one of the departments gave a speech about it being one company with one vision and then added that the company was very cost constrained,’ Hollman said. ‘He asked that everyone limit themselves to one piece of chicken.'”

These anecdotes tend to serve their purposes well, and they never feel like they’re there for their own sake. They’re usually fun, engaging, and genuinely add insight to the narrative. After reading so many biographies that feel like a notebook of research shuffled at random with a publisher’s seal on it, I can genuinely appreciate that she has positively nailed this aspect of her work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0062301233″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″] here[/easyazon_link].

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