2014 - Book Reviews

 

Reading has always been something that I enjoy and this year has been no different. I purchased many books at the beginning of 2014 and I am slowly making my way through them. Click on each title for a link to Amazon.

 

"Tribes" by Seth Godin

In “Tribes,” Mr. Godin has given us an elegant solution to leadership formation. It is a simple thing to think about how much power is available to each of us if we are willing to risk ourselves and take the power, yet most of us do not. Mr. Godin argues that now more than ever we need people willing to take risks and lead others through our passion and expertise, because these are characteristics that bring people together and can be used for common good. The elegance of Mr. Godin’s solution is each of us has an opportunity to begin a tribe, and the world will respond if we prove ourselves competent. This is a fantastic read for anyone at any stage in life, because it had me ready to take on the world by the end of the book. It is also a quick read, but a book that should be re-read and shared many times. Thanks Mr. Godin for this gem.

 

"QBQ!" by John G. Miller

As a teacher, personal accountability is of primary importance for both myself and my students. In this short but profound book, John G. Miller provides a framework for thought and action leading to a high level of personal accountability. QBQ! places emphasis on what an individual can control instead of what the individual cannot control, which changes the individual’s thinking from a victim mentality to taking responsibility. I will highly recommend this book to my students, friends, and colleagues so that we may all increase our personal accountability and improve our thinking.

 

"The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business" by Patrick Lencioni

Even though I completed this book in February, I knew this would be the best and most useful book I read all year. Mr. Lencioni does an incredible job of elucidating why an organization must become healthy and provides concrete ways to become healthy. His “Four Disciplines Model” is an outstanding framework for the aspects of organizational life that must be completed and continually maintained, and I was especially drawn to the six critical questions in the “Create Clarity Discipline.” These establish the basis for the organization and must have clear answers for an organization to reach it’s full potential. The questions can also be asked of an individual, providing a framework for a person to analyze and improve their current situation. I have highly recommended this book to several business and education leaders that I know and will continue to recommend it to many others. 

 

"George Washington: Gentleman Warrior" by Stephen Brumwell

For the USA vs Portugal match in Manaus, Brazil during the 2014 World Cup, my brother, best friend, and I decided to dress as former Presidents of the United States. My brother was Abraham Lincoln, my best friend was Teddy Roosevelt, and I had the honor and distinction of representing George Washington. To properly get into character, I wanted to read a book about Mr. Washington. I saw this book at a bookstore and was immediately drawn to it, and the book did not disappoint. Mr. Brumwell does an outstanding job of showing the gentleman and warrior sides of Mr. Washington during his entire life, culminating with the Continental Army’s triumph over Great Britain at Yorktown. Mr. Brumwell’s writing is entertaining and lively, and I was drawn into the competing narratives of Mr. Washington’s life. I also learned a great deal about the political and social climate during the buildup to the American Revolution, and Mr. Brumwell effortlessly interweaves Mr. Washington’s life with other relevant stories. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes history, especially Mr. Washington or the early colonial days of the United States. 

 

"The Contemporaries Meet the Classics on the Holy Spirit" by Randall Harris

Mr. Harris has curated a fantastic collection of meditations on the Holy Spirit, and it is very interesting to see how leading Christian thinkers have discussed the form, function, and meaning of the Holy Spirit. The writings range from the earliest Christian writers to the late 20th century, and they all contribute to the reader's understanding of the Holy Spirit. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is learning about the Holy Spirit for the first time or someone who simply needs a refresher, because the reader will gain something from the myriad of perspectives in this collection. 

 

"David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell

As someone who has been a part of many activities, teams, classrooms, and organizations, I have seen the dynamics between the leaders and the led. Like everyone, I have been an underdog, misfit, and giant, but did not really understand the mindsets of each until reading Mr. Gladwell’s book. He does a wonderful job of using plain language to discuss the ways people react to various situations and gives many surprising examples of people behaving in ways contrary to what the “experts” believed. These reactions have many profound implications in the way we counsel and train people, and I have rethought parts of my leadership style because of the findings of this book. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone with positional or persuasive power, because it will impact the way you lead. 

 

"Start with WHY" by Simon Sinek

‘Why?’ One of the simplest questions, yet so often it is very difficult to answer easily. However, answering this question SHOULDN’T be easy, at least not for the things that matter. Parenting, teaching, coaching, leading; each of these is about the process of answering the ‘Why’ questions. First the answers come from the one with authority, but over time the answers will come from the ones asking the question. When you get to the place where you can answer your own ‘Why’ question, then you can start leading a life of purpose and impact. What is your ‘Why?’

 

"The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell

“Leadership” as an idea can often seem so lofty and ethereal, yet the best teachers of leadership bring incredible practicality to their work. Mr. Maxwell does a great job of taking various aspects of leadership and creating specific ‘laws’ to highlight each of them. Learning and implementing 21 such Laws is a daunting task; however, this is a book to revisit often as leaders grow in their roles and progress to their next level. I would highly recommend this book to anyone at any level of leadership, because they will benefit from some aspect of the book.

 

"The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg

This is a fantastic book for anyone wishing to understand how habits are formed, the ways they may be changed, and how they may be leveraged to create the best possible outcomes. Mr. Duhigg has really done his science research for this book (which I appreciate, as a science teacher), from the neuroscience behind habits to the psychology driving habits to the sociological impacts of habits. The two biggest points of this book are the following: Understanding how habits are formed; and, the existence and power of keystone habits. Both of these are really interesting and useful on a human level and teaching level, and I have used what I learned from this book on a weekly basis since I finished reading it. Thank you Mr. Duhigg for writing such and insightful book, because this is one I will reference for years to come.

 

"Follow Me" by David Platt

When many believers first hear Jesus call them, they respond with enthusiasm. However, as the years go by, many lose their sense of wonder and become disengaged with the call of Jesus to spread His word and create new Jesus-followers. Mr. Platt addresses this issue in this book, and does so in a compelling and relevant manner. "Follow Me" is worth a read for any Jesus-follower, whether you have been with Jesus for 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, or 3 months. I especially appreciate his 'Personal Disciple-Making Plan,' because this challenges us to consider how we will use our time and gifts to spread the word of Jesus in the coming year. I plan on completing the plan before the end of 2014, and I am excited to see how this will impact my world in 2015.

 

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

Mr. Kahneman has produced a masterpiece, and this book is incredibly full of information about thinking. If you are interested in brain research, from neuroscience to psychology to sociology, then this book is for you. There are so many highlights in this book that there is not space to list them all, but the one that stands out is this: WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is). Basically, this is the principle that humans are not good at considering options other than the ones we see, and many decisions are incorrectly made because we forget to consider other options. Again, if you enjoy research on thinking, I highly recommend this book.

 

"To Sell is Human" by Daniel Pink

Attunement. Buoyance. Clarity. These are the new ABCs of selling, as posited by Mr. Pink. As I become more involved in leadership and other roles in my work and life, I have realized that more and more I am selling something. I am selling ideas of ways we can improve, courses and careers for students, and strategies and content to my colleagues. If I do not use the new principles of selling, then I am not successful in the way I interact with others. I highly recommend Mr. Pink's book to anyone looking to make a positive impact through their ideas and influence, becaucs it has already helped me in the way I interact with others.

 

"The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M.R. Covey

The business and leadership books I have read this year have really complemented each other well, and Mr. Covey's work joins excellently with the others I have read. Trust is essential in any interaction, and it is the glue that allows teams and companies to accomplish more in less time than their competitors. Without trust, nothing in "The Advantage" works, which shows Mr. Covey's concepts are foundational for any successful team or company. The biggest takeaway from this book is the following: Trust is a combination of character (integrity and intent) and competence (capabilities and results), and lacking in any of the four areas will reduce the trust between people. Understanding this and getting them right on a daily basis is a challenge, but by focusing on these four areas for an extended period of time an incredible amount of trust will be built in you and your work. I highly recommend this book for anyone, especially if you are a leader or are in the process of becoming a leader.

 

"The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork" by John C. Maxwell

Mr. Maxwell's books are always very dense, and this book is no exception. The ideas are excellent, but they are difficult to implement unless you really take the time to focus on one or two for an extended period of time. I have not taken that time, and thus have gotten limited use from this book.

 

"The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" by Patrick Lencioni

After reading "The Advantage," I began to work backwards through Mr. Lencioni's works. This book, like most of his works, is written as a modern-day fable, which adds an interesting element to what could be a very dry leadership book. Mr. Lencioni's storytelling is superb, which makes this an interesting and fun read. This book is also short enough to be read in one sitting, and the leadership lessons at the end are top-class. I will not spoil the ending here; rather, you should obtain this book and learn them yourself!

 

"Colonel Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris

"Colonel Roosevelt" is the third and final book in Mr. Morris' treatise on Mr. Roosevelt's life, and Mr. Morris has done justice to the life and legend that is Theodore Roosevelt. (The first two books are "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" and "Theodore Rex.") There are so many aspects of the life and times of Mr. Roosevelt's life that are applicable today, and many of the programs and ideas that we still debate in the early 2000s are simply repeats of the debates of the early 1900s. Mr. Morris does a fantastic job of presenting Mr. Roosevelt's idiosyncrasies in a balanced yet captivating manner, which makes the stories easily accessible and relatable. All three books are very time consuming, but they are definitely worth the time and effort, so much so that I was sad when I finished this book because I realized there were no more to read. It takes a special writer to bring forth that feeling, and Mr. Morris has captured it in this series.

 

"The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family" by Patrick Lencioni

This is another fable by Mr. Lencioni, and he does a fantastic job of using fictional characters to create a story as a vehicle for his leadership ideas. The fable this time centers around a family that is pulled in many directions, and the family makes some decisions that allow them to regain balance individually and as a family so that they may enjoy all they do instead of dreading their busy-ness and "need" to do certain activities. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a family or who may have a family at some point, because Mr. Lencioni includes a set of questions to ask your family (or yourself) to see if you need to remove or reduce activities in your lives so that you can emphasize other areas more. 

 

"Zero Hour" by Clive Cussler

Mr. Cussler always writes interesting books, and "Zero Hour" is no exception. With his blend of science and adventure, Mr. Cussler creates a dramatic story that always ends well for the good guys. I often use Mr. Cussler's books as a way to enjoy some time without thinking of work I may need to do (this is my version of watching television), and this is another enjoyable read.

 

"Developing the Leaders Around You" by John C. Maxwell

Even though this is one of Mr. Maxwell's older works, this book resonated with me because it discusses how to lead and coach those in your care. As leaders, we are essentially trying to replace ourselves, but it takes great courage to give others opportunities to fully develop into capable people and leaders in their own right. This book discusses the questions, challenges, and responsibilities leaders have in developing others, and offers practical steps to do so. I recommend this book to anyone who is a teacher, coach, or leader, and I would also suggest looking into Mr. Maxwell's newer works related to this same concept. 

 

"One Word" by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page

I first heard of the One Word concept on an EntreLeadership podcast, and I was intrigued. Basically, instead of creating resolutions for the year, you follow a short process to understand your word for the year. This word is to be a guidepost for you during the year, and you are able to use the word as a filter for everything you do. With the information from the podcast, I selected my word for 2014. However, I felt I was missing something, so I read the book. The book gives many more examples and ideas (as is expected) than what the authors could do on a podcast, and with this new knowledge I understood my word for 2015 in a deeper way. For anyone who is struggling to keep resolutions or keep their life in order, I highly recommend this book. There is great power in understanding your word for the year, and it will help you during the ups and downs of life.

 

"How the Mighty Fall, and Why Some Companies Never Give In" by Jim Collins

As a reader of Mr. Collins' other works, I have come to expect nothing but the best from him. This book does not disappoint, and it brings a whole new light to the decline of once-great companies. Mr. Collins details the five stages of decline and gives great examples of companies in those stages, and highlights the applicable lessons from each company during the stages. Even though most of the book is negative (companies closing is not a happy subject, especially in light of the people who lost their livelhoods because of the actions of the 'leaders'), the book ends on a positive note. Mr. Collins gives examples of companies that went through multiple stages of decline, yet were able to turn the company around and become great again. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is leading a great or on-their-way-to-great organization, because it will help you understand the pitfalls associated with being great. Well done as usual, Mr. Collins.

 

"Killing Lions: A Guide Through the Trials Young Men Face" by John Eldredge and Sam Eldredge

After finishing this book I bought 10 more copies to give to other men in my life, which should give you some indication of my feelings towards this book. Both the questions by Sam (the son) and the responses by John (the dad) really resonated with me, because they are questions that all men must answer to move towards and into manhood. If (and especially if you consider yourself to be a Christian) you have a young man in your life, I highly recommend reading this for them. It provides great inspiration and answers, and will leave you wanting to find your calling and make this world a better place.

 

"The Go-Getter" by Peter Kyne

Even though this story was first published in 1921, the message it brings is still relevant today. Mr. Kyne provides a short parable about hustle and doing never giving up, and it is quite inspirational. This is a short read, and worth the time it takes to finish the book.

 

"A More Beautiful Question" by Warren Berger

As a part of my teaching this year, I had to select a goal for the year and begin working on it. My goal was to improve my questioning, and to do so I wanted to find several books that were directly related to questioning. Mr. Berger's book is a fantastic resource, because he gives a coherent outline to the process of questioning and provides many rich examples of people and companies using questioning to better themselves and their companies. I highly recommend this book to anyone, because we can all use a little more questioning in our lives. Great work, Mr. Berger.

 

"Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek

In "Leaders Eat Last," Mr. Sinek does an excellent job of describing leadership from the biological basis all the way to where we are currently in our culture. As a science teacher, I appreciated Mr. Sinek's use of the science because this still drives decisions about who we follow and why we follow them. Mr. Sinek also does a great job using relevant examples of both good and bad leadership, and writes very clearly about the ways leaders treat their teams. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a leader or wants to be a leader, because it will give you fresh insight into what is required. Well done, Mr. Sinek.

 

"What to Do When It's Your Turn (and it's always your turn)" by Seth Godin

Do you need some inspiration to get started or keep going? If so, read this fantastic book by Mr. Godin. The book is full-color with many fascinating pictures and typesetting, so it is an easy and fun read that will get you ready to tackle any challenge. Mr. Godin's writing is always beautiful, and this is no different. Playful, joyous, inventive, yet serious and weighty, Mr. Godin has produced another gem. Thanks for all you do, Mr. Godin.

 

"The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing" by Lisa Gansky

In "The Mesh," Ms. Gansky describes a future of business that is both a return to our roots and a radically different way of doing business than in previous generations. With the advent of more and more technology to track physical goods, uses by people, and ideas by people, businesses now have access to more data than ever before. As companies get better at parsing this data to understand what users need, there will be an opportunity for businesses to provide goods and services based on sharing and recycling rather than disposing. Many new niches will be created, and those with the thirst to serve customers in a genuine way will be well-positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. Ms. Gansky provides a vision for those who are creating new companies and provides many ideas to get started. Well done, Ms. Gansky.

© 2019 by NATHAN BELCHER

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