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Posts from the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

16
Dec

Review: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jon Gertner’s “The Idea Factory” tells an important story about the history of many of the communications and information technology underpinnings of our current era. More importantly, it explores (indirectly and eventually) a major question of what is needed to make large basic and applied research labs successful. I’m glad I read this book, but can’t say I necessarily enjoyed reading it. As such I’m struggling with whether to rate 3 or 4 stars … if Goodreads allowed 3.5, that’d be it.

Growing up very close to Bell Labs’ Holmdel NJ facility, I was attracted to this book because of the place the Labs occupied in our local culture. If you were bright, technically oriented, and wanted a well-paying job, Bell Labs was the place to strive for. The invention/discovery of radio astronomy at Crawford Hill added to the mystique. Read more »

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3
Oct

Review: The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy

The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It probably takes a special sort of person to dive into an entire book about one statistical theory, but for those so-motivated, this one pays off.

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5
May

Three Books in a Storm

Very little can be said to have been “good” about the brutal Alabama tornado outbreak of 27 April 2011.  I was fortunate enough to come through unscathed both in body and property, inconvenienced only by five days without power.  In a “glass half full” sort of way, five powerless days and public entreaties to stay out of the way of recovery efforts did have one upside: I got to catch up on quite a bit of reading.  Below are some drive-by reviews of an odd assortment of pent up reading material. Read more »

26
Mar

Review: Business Model Generation

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cartoonish packaging and presentation of this book shouldn’t dissuade prospective readers, there actually is some meat. BMG’s slug ambitiously reads, “You’re holding a handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow’s enterprises…” While this is a little of a breathless oversell, BMG contains good tools to work with. Read more »

4
Dec

Review: The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World

The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World by Walter Kiechel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars for what has been my favorite read of the year, thus far.

While a history of strategic management consulting might sound like the last place to look for an engaging, rewarding and entertaining read, it is a testament to Kiechel’s skill that this book comes alive. It simultaneously traces the history of several key individuals, key consulting firms, key strategic “theories”, and key societal views towards corporations and capitalism as a whole. Kiechel brings order and continuity to what has become a very diverse and divergent field, as well as in documenting the decades-long evolution of thinking around the roles of corporations. Read more »

12
Nov

Review: Hacking Work

Hacking Work by Bill Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh.

HBR may have it right, Hacking Work may be one of the ten breakthrough ideas of 2010. The downside is, what Jensen and Klein have to say really could fit within the confines of a good HBR article; it’s a bit thin and repetitive for 200 pages. That said … it’s a quick and fairly innocuous pages that doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

Jensen and Klein do a reasonably good job at encouraging those who might not yet be inclined to take personal ownership over their career vector to do so. (As a manager, I’d say this alone redeems the book). The concept that employees’ intellectual capital and effectiveness is theirs to wield and sell in ‘the new economy’ is the underpinning of the book. It’s an interesting proposition, but there are two areas that are critically under-explored:

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20
Oct

Review: “The Failure of Risk Management”, by Douglas Hubbard

The Failure of Risk Management: Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It by Douglas W. Hubbard

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had high expectations for this book after reading “How to Measure Anything”, and unfortunately none of them were met. My very short review would state: were it not for those high expectations, I would have stopped reading the book about 1/3 of the way in, but based on past performance, I stuck it through to the end. That was a mistake.

The defects in Hubbard’s second book are many. First and foremost, it is simply not pleasant to read. While “How to Measure” adopted a posture of helpful tutorial, “Failure” attempts to rehash most of the same material, albeit from a posture of criticizing almost every risk analysis method Hubbard has not personally worked on. The tone is shrill, smug, and “low emotional intelligence quotient”. Read more »