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. 

MY RATING - 3.5

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.

MY RATING - 4


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)

Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls has been compared to The Nightingale (which I loved) and All the Light We Cannot See (which I didn't). As a reviewer, I would place it somewhere in the middle -- a worthwhile read with a few small issues.

In 1939, the world was jarred to its core when Hitler invaded Poland. Lilac Girls entrenches the reader firmly into this time period by telling the stories of Caroline Ferriday, Kasia Kuzmerick, and Herta Oberheuser. Caroline is dedicated to her position at the French consulate in New York and terrified about what Hitler will do to France. Kasia is a Polish teenager and dedicated just as much as Caroline to her own role in the secretive Polish resistance. Finally, Herta is a rare woman German physician who takes a job at Ravensbruck, a concentration camp exclusively for women.

Lilac Girls takes its shape when these characters' worlds begin to intersect. I didn't know anything about the Ravensbruck Rabbits, and it is the hallmark of a great book that makes you want to learn more about a topic. I found parts of it to be unputdownable (like the whole of The Nightingale) and other parts to be in need of serious editing (like All the Light We Cannot See). While about a hundred pages too long, Lilac Girls is a wonderful read for those interested in this dark part of history.

MY RATING - 4

Monday, January 20, 2020

For the Love of Books (Graham Tarrant)

Graham Tarrant's For the Love of Books has as its subtitle Stories of Literary Loves, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More. Sounds exciting, right? On paper, it certainly does, but the way it is set up, it reads more like an encyclopedia or textbook.

Each literary topic is divided into small sections designed, I'm assuming, to be read a few at a time. This setup seems like it would make it an easy read, but it did just the opposite for me. The sections were so short that they provided very little new insights about the author or book they were talking about. I would have liked the author to have taken a more in-depth approach instead of just giving the reader a limited overview.

I found For the Love of Books to not be interesting enough to read all the way through at a normal book's pace. In fact, I began it in August 2019 and didn't fully complete it until now. For bibliophiles, it definitely offers some fun tidbits about books and the authors behind them. But with no clear path through, it's difficult to see the point of it all.

MY RATING - 2

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events (Robert J. Shiller)

The study of economics is often considered joyless, boring, and even “dismal” in some quarters, probably because much of its research and work deals with facts and figures. Unless you love facts and stats, economics may not be something that interests you even though we are all generally impacted by the economy at large. Economists have often been cast as boring and robotic by society over the years for bringing their numeric approach to life. Robert J. Shiller's Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events hopes to change some of those perceptions. 

Shiller argues that the field of economics should increase its scope of data research to include stories that affect individual and societal economic behavior. His point is that pulling these narratives in will have the potential to improve predictions of future economic events, such as depressions and recessions, and help better prepare governments and businesses to deal with those events when they do occur. He also pulls in various stories from the 19th and 20th Centuries, both in good economic periods and bad, to help drive his points home that narratives can often influence, change, or even exacerbate what goes on around us. In an increasingly social age, Shiller believes that these narratives will provide valuable data going forward.

The book attempts to pull more of the "social" into the social science classification that economics falls into. I felt it was especially interesting in connecting the societal dots to events and that his arguments to utilize stories and narratives to help economists out in the future have value and merit. Narrative Economics is a bit technical and “in the weeds” at various times so I can’t recommend it as a casual read, but I do think those with an eye towards research, data, business, and social science work will gain some valuable insights.

MY RATING - 4

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today (James M. Banner)

Presidential Misconduct was originally compiled in 1974 at the request of Congress, during the investigations of Richard Nixon. It was intended as a historical account of past misdeeds, scandals, and investigations in presidential administrations from George Washington through Lyndon Johnson. One of the historians that contributed to the 1974 report, James M. Banner, has put together another panel to review administrations from Nixon through Barack Obama. This update was done in response to the current investigations surrounding the Trump administration.

The original report found that each president save for William Henry Harrison has been accused of misconduct of some level, from rigging elections to fiscal mismanagement to employing corrupt staff. Yes, even George Washington was levied with charges of being a tyrant by anti-Federalists.  The updated account includes Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, and other events that were heavily investigated by Congress or the press. Some presidential accounts are much longer than others for a host of reasons. Some of the investigations were legitimate but others came about as the result of overinflated charges made by enemies of that particular administration.

Given the highly political times we are in, this book is a great reference on how politics, power, and the pursuits of both have shaped the ebb and flow of the behavior of presidential administrations over the years. Congress’s response to perceived and actual corruption is also brought in for each president’s record. Presidential Misconduct is written without bias and with heavy reference to past historical records and worth your time if you are a student of history or political science.

MY RATING - 4

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christmas Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)

Reading about the exploits of Becky Brandon (nee' Bloomwood) is like spending time with an old friend. Christmas Shopaholic is the ninth of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic books, and while there's nothing earth-shattering here, it's still a fun way way to while away a wintry afternoon.

Becky loves Christmas, but this year, her parents have moved away and asked her to do the hosting. Hosting Christmas in this family is the opposite of a low-key affair: Becky's sister, Jess, wants a vegan turkey and each attendee in turn has demands of their own. Becky is just plain stressed out, wanting everything from the gifts to the decorations to be absolutely perfect. Misunderstandings ensue until the final twist at the end (which genuinely surprised me). And of course, we couldn't have a book in the Shopaholic Series without lots and lots of shopping; this being Christmas, Becky takes it to the extreme.

I usually find Becky Brandon to be a fun character, but in this one, she gets into a few too many frustrating situations. Not my favorite Shopaholic book but still an entertaining read for the holidays.

MY RATING - 3.5