Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power (Deirdre Mask)

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power is a wonderfully written collection of stories about the power and identity of street addresses. Author Deirdre Mask’s collection about the role addresses and place plays in the past, present, and future is enlightening and at times powerful and moving. I especially enjoyed reading about how some of the more off-the-wall street names that grace various parts of our world were identified and placed.

The concept of address and place is powerful. I live in an area that recently went through a debate over a street name change to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (by the way, Mask has a chapter that covers King and his name being lent to streets throughout the world). That debate was at times fierce and heated before the town compromised with naming a street in honor of King while maintaining the original street name. The debate of renaming streets is fierce at times, and Mask spends much of her book covering how municipalities around the world deal with that topic.

Where place goes in the future, especially in a world that’s relatively more mobile for many, remains to be seen. Mask covers some of these possibilities for how place and address identity may change. If you have an interest in geography or history, this book is definitely worth reading.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less (Garett Jones)

10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less is in some ways a rather fitting book to release in a year with a US Presidential Election. Garett Jones, a former Senate staffer and current professor of economics at George Mason University, articulates several arguments in favor of reducing some of the sway that the masses have in the election process through a series of reforms. The reforms range from practical (such as modestly increasing the length of terms of elected office) to ones that will be harder to implement and may be unrealistic politically (such as education-based requirements to vote).

Jones’s arguments are centered around the idea that reforms are necessary to improve Western government and to dampen the influence of populism that has arisen over the past decade in many circles of Western government. His arguments to counter that are to place trust in the hands of those who are experts to make the best informed decisions. His arguments are rooted in statistical analysis, with the strongest analysis coming out in his arguments regarding interest rates.

The title feels like a bit of a misnomer; Jones isn’t advocating tyrannical rule or removing the ability to vote for individuals. However, he is advocating for change, even though some of his reforms may be difficult to implement. 10% Less Democracy is a worthwhile read if you are interested in political science or economics.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Other Mrs. (Mary Kubica)

Mary Kubica's The Other Mrs. is an addictive thriller that will keep
you up late into the night. It's filled with twists and turns that you won't see coming, and once you think they're over, they hit you again.

Will and Sadie Foust move their two sons halfway across the country into Will's sister's house after her suicide. They also become guardians of Imogen, Will's troubled teen niece. The people on this coastal island seem mistrustful and guarded of the new family. One day, their neighbor is found dead, and Sadie is deemed suspicious. She is prone to not remembering things, but she knows she is not a murderer. What really happened that night is something she needs to find out for both her and her family's sake.

What's most interesting about The Other Mrs. are the peripheral characters -- Camille and Mouse. How they are connected to the story are part of the mouth-dropping twists and turns I was referring to. This is a great read in a time when originality in this genre is tough to come by anymore.


Monday, March 9, 2020

What's Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve (Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg)

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg’s What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve tackles the issue of problem solving in organizations. The author’s background is in educating businesses in what he refers to as reframing: taking a problem and asking key questions to address the real underlying issues that accompany the problem and subsequently figuring out a solution. According to his research, 85% of companies he surveyed stated that they often struggle with problem solving and waste resources in the process. This book is his attempt to help businesses and business leaders improve on that ongoing struggle.

What's Your Problem? outlines the process of creating that “reframing” state of mind through a series of questions, analysis, and introspection. This ensures that the problem a business is trying to solve is really the problem at hand. The book also incorporates a canvas that businesses can utilize to help hem through this the process for the first time.

The target market for this book is the business community and would be beneficial for managers and those within any leadership position within a company. It provides an outline to problem solving that is different than what many in business were taught. However, for it to have an impact in changing a business’s problem solving success, it will require some adjustment in thinking in how a business gets from point A to B. Given organizations often have competing silos and group dynamics that can impact success and the ability for teams to address problems collaboratively, the challenge will be in the full and total buy-in. While the author tries to address this somewhat in his book, buy-in may be the hardest problem to solve.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945 (Sinclair McKay)

The final stages of World War II’s European phase featured massive Allied bombing raids of several German cities, including Dresden, as part of the Allied strategy to destroy industrial and civic targets throughout the Nazi Reich. On the night of February 13th, 1945, the bombing of Dresden began with two rounds of British assaults, continuing the next day with American bombing raids. All told, approximately 25,000 died in the attack. 

Sinclair McKay’s book, The Fire and The Darkness, details Dresden’s story from before the attack through today, with heavy focus on the attack itself as told through the eyes of several individual accounts. Kurt Vonnegut was a Prisoner of War in Dresden during the raid and wrote Slaughterhouse Five based loosely on the raid. McKay mentions him at points through the book in addition to other eyewitness accounts. While reading this book, one also learns about the historical importance of Dresden as a cultural and religious hub in traditional German life and how the bombing and resulting Soviet influence in East Germany post-war changed parts, but not all, of that fabric. 

McKay’s well-researched, detailed account provides a balanced perspective of not only the attack itself but also its reaction from both German and Western perspectives. McKay provides views from both those who thought that the bombing was justified, as well as those who felt the excesses of the damage and large numbers of fatalities pushed the attack over the line of justified action.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments (Stefan H. Thomke)

When you were in school, you most likely learned about the scientific method. In its various forms, it has had 400 years of impact on research and development of inventions and new ways of thinking. In many respects, innovation in business follows similar pathways, and it can be argued that businesses that encourage a curious environment of testing and experimentation have better sales and growth over time.

Stefan H. Thomke is the author of Experimentation Works, a new book that tracks how successful companies innovate, experiment, and support an organizational culture that values new and creative ways of doing business. One particular instance was with Microsoft’s Bing Browser and ad revenue, where a few small changes yielded large returns in ad revenue. Thomke spends much the book within the technological realm but effectively weaves in examples of where experimentation can cross into different business lanes. Given the increasing influence that technology has in our lives, I found this to be an important but understated takeaway.

Experimentation Works targets higher level management in companies and provides sound advice for business leaders to encourage and foster a thoughtful and intelligent approach to creativity.  The adage “adapt or die” certainly rings true and Thomke’s book helps make a solid case for businesses to show creativity and adaptability. 


Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Family Upstairs (Lisa Jewell)

Aah -- a unique mystery with twists and turns I didn't see coming. That seems so rare anymore, but that's what I got in Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs. 

Libby Jones has never known much at all about her past, but when she is 25, she gets a letter learning who her birth parents are. But that's not the only thing she discovers; she has also inherited their mansion in London, worth millions. When she gets to the home, she finds out that others have been waiting for her...those who escaped the house 25 years before at the time when police found three dead bodies and Baby Libby upstairs unharmed.

I really enjoyed this one, and as I said before, it's so difficult to write a book with a fresh plot nowadays. But that's what readers get in The Family Upstairs, a mystery with unforgettable characters and one that takes them on a wild ride.