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 co...moreMeh.
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:
- The issue of whether or not the economic meltdown will serve to further unlock this new mode of thinking (a global vote of no confidence in corporate leadership, as the authors posit), or inhibit it (due to job insecurity) is mentioned, but not probed in any depth. When the first real, "hard" data get published on this topic, this book might be worth a re-visit.
- Put bluntly, the issue of whether or not most employees have the skills and maturity to hack the workplace, well, that's the $64M question. Jensen and Klein assert repeatedly that in their 'extensive interviews' workplace hacks are already happening, all over the place - but again, there's precious little hard data to support this. It's a critical weakness. The book is supposed to be targeted at those not yet hacking, though its real audience is likely to be the already-converted (highly skilled employee hackers and supportive managers).
This second weakness would bother me less if the "sell" weren't couched in very naive and simplistic antiestablishment platitudes about control and its inherent evils. This is not the sort of philosophy that will set people on the "still developing" side of the emotional intelligence spectrum on a course for success. Indeed, while the authors claim to be addressing all manner of workplace hacks - both social and technological - their focus is clearly on the train wreck that is enterprise IT. The disconnects between the enterprise IT industry, employees' needs, and even managements' needs, are many, and the reasons are probably a lot deeper and more complicated than a facile and universal management desire for "control".
So - meh. There's a good idea here, but it's spread too thin, hyped a bit too hard, not backed up by strong analysis, and by trivializing management needs with silly and simplistic assertions, probably loses some needed friends. But give it a read - YMMV.
The best advice I can give on this book is to spend a few minutes reading a chapter or sample before committing. If the writing style is to your likin...moreThe best advice I can give on this book is to spend a few minutes reading a chapter or sample before committing. If the writing style is to your liking, you'll end up rewarded with an interesting, creative and nicely constructed story. If it isn't, you may end up finding it too distracting to appreciate the story. (As other reviewers have noted, it's heavy on detailed description, a little slow on exposition, and uses a few conventions such as second person POV that may be irritating). For me, I enjoyed the style about 80% of the time, found it distracting about 10%, and occasionally was on the edge of annoying, but not quite, not quite. The story unfolds in the vein of an artful mystery, so I didn't mind it taking a while to get going, and while the conclusion wasn't particularly surprising, it was satisfying.
As with some others on Goodreads, I found this book a little hard to rate, thinking it a "3.5" and opting for a 4 star rating from an "E for Effort" s...moreAs with some others on Goodreads, I found this book a little hard to rate, thinking it a "3.5" and opting for a 4 star rating from an "E for Effort" standpoint. Part of this is high expectations on my part based on affinity for Silver's FiveThirtyEight election prediction work.
The book is well researched and covers a nicely diverse array of example topics, including but not limited to economics, betting, sports, weather, climate, earthquakes and terrorism. The diversity keeps the interest going. A challenge here is that few of the examples were unfamiliar to me; ironically as the book is ultimately about Bayesian inference, there may be a little bit of a Bayesian thing going on relative to those most likely to buy/read and those most likely to have prior exposure and be left wanting more. The same thinking might suggest that the book is targeted more towards readers attracted by Silver's political forecasts than those with a wonkish or professional interest in prediction itself.
For the latter, Silver redeems by offering something hard to find in similar popular literature, a high level synthesis across both realms and disciplines in prediction. A contrast with Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds (both of which Silver draws from) helps illustrate: While these two books are by no means peers (Kahneman's represents a lifetime of scholarship, Surowiecki's is more management faddish), as books, both suffer a bit from "the curse of knowledge" - the authors' over familiarity with the often contradictory details leaves the reader rudderless on how to apply the findings in practice.
Silver, instead, takes a first step towards synthesis. This is welcome, although occasionally questions do arise about the formal correctness of mixing and matching themes and findings from very the different predictive methods (regression, classification, physics based modeling, simulation, etc) covered in the book. Absent a unifying framework to relate these methods (Silver is clearly an applied forecaster rather than a theoretician) the reader must rely on his claims to authority by experience (as well as the depth of research indicated by heavy citation) in trusting the synthesis and recommendations.
Overall, Silver ends up on the positive side of the trust ledger sheet, and even for readers already familiar with the topical examples, he provides enough additional color, as well as thought provoking commentary, to make it all worthwhile.(less)
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.
Th...moreIt 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.
The pro's: The author has done a phenomenal job at capturing and richly detailing the very "large" personalities that have championed (or condemned) the use of Bayes' Rule through the centuries, amidst a little-known and long-simmering war that has persisted between statistical Bayesians and frequentists since the concept was first brought forward. This is even more impressive as she is a journalist, rather than a statistician. McGrayne immerses the reader in what can only be called "lush" detail of the history, from personalities to global events.
The con's: This a very dense text. Not dry in an academic sense, but a lot of material to consume. At times I had to summon extra reserves of motivation to proceed to the next chapter. The topic is also a difficult one to communicate solely through narrative - more than once I found myself wishing for just a little bit of math-by-the-way-of-example to help grasp the concepts. (With such, this could actually serve well as an educational vehicle). While already familiar with Bayes, the application in some of the historical examples was, for me, elusive.
Computing power has today made the Bayesian/frequentist conflict somewhat moot, and I found myself wishing for a little more exposition of Bayesian applications in the modern era. (To me, this is where the real excitement lies, if "excitement" is the correct term!)
Overall - if statistics, scientific inference, decision theory or machine learning excite you, this is probably a book to have under your belt. Reading the history of Bayesian vs frequentist wars triggered some good musing and reflection on the critical question of "how to make inferences when too little, rather than too much, data are at hand".
This book was mostly enjoyable; if you're interested in the trek, by all means read it end to end; if you're interested in Bhutan, perhaps start elsew...moreThis book was mostly enjoyable; if you're interested in the trek, by all means read it end to end; if you're interested in Bhutan, perhaps start elsewhere and find your way here. I read it along with several ahead of a trip there this fall.
One of the challenges with travel books such as these is there are only so many themes to pull from ... having done a couple of eco-trips and homestays (none so fierce as the Snowman Trek!) I can't claim to be an expert but have a fair sense of what there is to pull from:
1 - The trek / geography / experience itself: The book does a wonderful job here, telling the story of the trek with great detail and a good and evocative writing style. Very interesting (and very cool/impressive).
2 - One's fellow travelers: Again, nicely done. Grange captures the spirit of traveling with a group and his band of trekkers is described in enough detail to build the story, but not so much as to be intrusive.
3 - The locals one meets: Pretty good; obviously limited here as most of the time was spent hiking. I tend to be more interested in people than scenery so I might have liked more, but wouldn't hold this against the book.
4 - Snippets of the local history / culture / politics to provide "backstory": We get a highly romanticized view of Bhutan with selective emphasis on the positive and overmuch time on the Buddhism. From other books it's a fascinating culture that has both its pro's and its dark sides - we see none of the latter here, or the complexity of the country.
5 - Reflections on personal transformation associated with the travel: Probably the hardest to write, threading the narcissism line carefully (and following heavily trodden ground), and this is where the book stumbles (I hate to say this as the author has obviously opened up and shared experiences which were deeply meaningful to him). Overall these portions of the book feel like I would have enjoyed them much more, say, in my more angst-ridden 20s. They occur with enough frequency to be distracting and at times border on trite/naive. For the right audience at the right time, they'll probably resonate, but I wasn't that audience, and the storytelling mechanics here didn't converge to get me to connect or much care. A transformational story has to have a deeper connection to the "pre" state of the author as central character, and the book spends more time on nostalgic reminiscences of childhood than in describing a person whose transformation is emotionally engaging.
I wouldn't let the last note discourage folks interested in the trek from reading - the reflective passages can be gotten by, and the rest of the tale is well written and worth reading.(less)
Fabulous, outstanding, beautiful. Everything worked about this compilation. The design, layout and binding are gorgeous. The photos are lavish and oft...moreFabulous, outstanding, beautiful. Everything worked about this compilation. The design, layout and binding are gorgeous. The photos are lavish and often full/oversized and top quality with just the right mix of iconic and "behind the scenes" to add interest. The text/interviews are interesting enough to read cover to cover (I did and didn't regret it). Over the chapters (one for each film) they begin to get a little formulaic by the time the 80s roll around (not unlike the films themselves): setup on evolution of the story and script, nuggets about the stunts and effects, commentary by some actors, then a final section on promotion, release and reception. That said, the formula works, and the text becomes more interesting again during the Dalton, Brosnan and Craig "rebirths". Completeness all the way through contemporary Skyfall is a major bonus.
At its price tag this book is a bit of an indulgence, but well worth every penny.(less)
I enjoyed this short but thoughtful vignette. The author gives a frank and unvarnished view of life in Bhutan, steering away from breathless romantici...moreI enjoyed this short but thoughtful vignette. The author gives a frank and unvarnished view of life in Bhutan, steering away from breathless romanticism around the country, but nonetheless preserving an edge of the exotic and interesting. As a travel book, my only critique is that the narrative is a little shy on visual imagery, making it harder to for the reader to fully "connect up" and picture themselves immersed in the story. What it lacks in visual description though is more than made up for in the attention and capture of people, personalities and relationships.(less)
This was a surprisingly good recommend (thanks Bill!). It definitely puts the science back in science fiction, so be prepared for an opus that doesn't...moreThis was a surprisingly good recommend (thanks Bill!). It definitely puts the science back in science fiction, so be prepared for an opus that doesn't move quickly and digs deeply into some fairly esoteric topics.
It's been a long time since I've read 'proper' science fiction, having been distracted for a decade or two by (job-related) actual science, and I was hoping I'd find something worthy of standing next to the 'classics' I grew up with in re-entering the genre. Red Mars mostly delivered. It absolutely tickled the brain, earning it four stars from me. Less so on developing engaging characters to connect with; the characters here (even with multiple POVs) were mostly tools to convey the story - this is what kept it one star shy of five.
As far as technical critique, the book is surprisingly realistic in developing a plausible Mars colonization strategy, borrowing heavily (and mostly appropriately) from technologies which should be familiar to space/aerospace insiders. It's historically interesting to see where a book written in 1992/1993 ends up, in what it gets 'right' and 'wrong'. Obviously it misses the internecine and nearly religious space policy warfare of the last two 'lost' decades and thus puts boots on Mars off by about 20 years (relative to current best guesses - ah Mars, always "30 years out"). Another reviewer correctly points out that the novel might have been improved by spending a little more time discussing how the world actually gets over the critical threshold of undertaking the effort (incongruous given how much of the book is spent on human politics).
Also interesting in how these lost decades commingle with differences in technology extrapolations, in ways that would have big impacts on the way an actual Mars colonization (or the story's narrative) plays out ... here, "big engineering" precedes "deep biology", whereas today's technology forecasts might put that the other way around. Since the latter (without giving too much away) has a major impact on the story's plot, it leads to all sorts of interesting questions about the way Mars colonization might actually pan out (or not).
A couple of minor quibbles:
- The book focuses deeply on the human dimension; at times, this stretches credulity a little. Strains of dissidence appear very early in the narrative, which rings as implausible given the hundreds of billions of dollars that would have been spent to send the "first hundred" to Mars. In short, the story moves too a little too quickly from astronaut to pioneer mentality, unfortunate, as ample decades are covered in later chapters in which this would have been a more natural fit.
- While great props should be given to the science and engineering "realism", there are some gaps. Geologists, biologists, and civil engineers rule the day (and the narrative). Avionics (and by extension, most complex systems engineering) occurs by magic. From a storytelling perspective, this is perhaps a good thing, but the result is that the colony's engineering seems just a little too jury-riggable, customizable, and malleable, at least early on. Problems are solved by hard-nosed, pioneer-style "mechanics" rather than by engineers. A fine line to balance, to be fair, but another ding in the credulity tally.
These gaps are minor, however, against the breadth and scope of the socio-political story that is told, which is both engaging and eerily plausible. I'm signing on to read the next two books in the trilogy to see where it goes.(less)
This book appeared most insistently at the top of my Goodreads recommends after I added a couple of Ken Follets, and while I wasn't overly impressed w...moreThis book appeared most insistently at the top of my Goodreads recommends after I added a couple of Ken Follets, and while I wasn't overly impressed with the KFs or the genre, I followed the "trust goodreads" rule and gave it a whirl. Glad I did ... Whole different class.
I confess to having missed the Shakespearean treatment of Richard III (beyond the somewhat perplexing "1930s fascist England" movie version of the mid 90s), knew little of the conventional Tudor histories, and of the period in general... So I found my way halfway through the book before desiring to learn a bit about how much of it was grounded in truth (by that point, the various plots and romances were starting to accumulate to bordering on the potentially contrived). A quick trip to Wikipedia confirmed its authenticity at the expense of divulging "spoilers" (though in a different way increased my satisfaction with the rest of the book). If you're inclined to try this out and want to remain spoiler free, be assured its anchored fairly closely in history, and that it attempts to tell a Yorkist/Plantagenet version of that history unreconstructed by subsequent Tudor historians. (This alone makes it interesting fodder).
I'm no expert but it seems to also be reasonably period appropriate in writing and narrative as well; occasionally I had a vague sense that I might be reading some anachronisms in either language or worldview, but nothing I could specifically put my finger on and nothing so much as to distract or detract from enjoying the story.
Still not sure if I'm a huge fan of historical fiction but if I dip my toe in again, it'll likely be for a Sharon Key Penman novel.
Outstanding, one of my favorite books in a long while. The nested stories are served up in exactly the right increments, and the second half of the bo...moreOutstanding, one of my favorite books in a long while. The nested stories are served up in exactly the right increments, and the second half of the book steams downhill, picking up momentum and careening towards a very satisfying conclusion. The voices and styles of the different stories are carried off masterfully. The style may be a little gimmicky but Mitchell goes in with full awareness of that and pokes a little fun at himself at exactly the right time in the narratives. Overall I found Cloud Atlas refreshing, a little brain-stretching, intriguing, and smart. Highly recommend!(less)
Try as I might like, I just can't give this third volume any more than a 3 ("OK" in my book). Readers of Red and Green Mars will want to round out the...moreTry as I might like, I just can't give this third volume any more than a 3 ("OK" in my book). Readers of Red and Green Mars will want to round out the trilogy, and it ends up being satisfying, but as with RM and GM I found this book more impressive than enjoyable (to a greater extent than the first two; GM seemed to be the peak).
The last quarter or so is the best, but it takes a long and sometimes painfully meandering road to get there. I found myself often wishing someone had rolled up a newspaper and bopped KSR on the nose and said "NO!" at one of the many indulgent detours into the details of soil physics, particle physics, yachting, running, or whatever other minutiae on Mars he wanted to write about that chapter. A little on the harsh side, but there are times when BM felt like reading The Gulag Archipelago - painfully documentary rather than enjoyably narrative. This extended beyond the topical deep dives, as way too much of the first half is spent exploring the angst and displacement of key POV characters trying to figure out who they are and what to do, post-revolution - but never ending up anywhere. This is also true of a somewhat dull and narratively pointless excursion back to Earth.
The book picks up towards the end, and there are some very interesting and as always thought provoking chapters on other colonized solar system bodies, a little bit of broader colonized solar system politics, and deeper development of his really well-thought out theme of the effects of hyper-aging and senescence. One POV character's personal journey and transformation is closed out at the end, and it is satisfying, but as above, far too many others (whose 'displacement stories' readers had invested a lot of time and patience into this volume) are left hanging, leaving the impression of several long morality tales without a point.
Oy! Not quite sure what to say about this, other than that I persevered. Decided to read Seven Pillars after a vacation to Jordan recently followed by...moreOy! Not quite sure what to say about this, other than that I persevered. Decided to read Seven Pillars after a vacation to Jordan recently followed by a re-watch of Lawrence of Arabia. The narrative is nothing if not complete; much more a personal diary (albeit with quite elaborate ... sometimes almost contorted) writing style, than an edited book. A small handful of chapters comprised LOA. The book was somewhat frustrating ... many nuggets of wit, reflection or insight hidden amongst a much longer and larger collection of documentary chapters of the Arab revolt's specific movements and actions. (less)