Review: The limits of “Grit”

Grit is considered a “must-read” by many in my professional circle. For good reason – it’s an engaging, thought-provoking book. It’s useful and satisfying for its clear explanation of the core concept of grit (which is essentially: passionate perseverance) and its many inspirational stories. It’s also frustrating as hell for the nuance it lacks.

On the surface, this book is about the power of effort, and how deeply, mistakenly, undervalued the power of personal will is in our society. Modern people tend to romanticize and over-value “natural talent” and under-value sustained effort – to the great disadvantage of many.

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Review: Ring in 2017 with The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America by Philip RothOut of some dark, masochistic impulse, I chose to prepare myself for the upcoming coronation of the least qualified president in the history of these fine United States by reading this classic novel by famous pessimist Philip Roth.

Told in long, nostalgic descriptive sentences that unfurl around the reader like swamp- monster tentacles, this novel imagines a chilling alternative history of the 1940s in the USA as experienced by Roth as a little boy.

Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, a celebrity and media creation, is elected president after positioning himself as a champion of the “regular people” and advocating an isolationist stance toward World War II for the good of America. Lindbergh openly criticizes “Jewish interests” for trying to drag America into “Europe’s war” and signs a treaty with Nazi Germany, promising that the USA will stay out of the war and do nothing to prevent Nazi expansion. Emboldened by Lindbergh’s victory, racists rejoice and a brutal wave of anti-Semitism flourishes in America.

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Review: Political Fictions

political fictions book coverI experienced a large range of low emotions in the wake of the 2016 presidential election: disbelief, shock, anger, indignation, confusion, revulsion, despair, depression, anxiety.

This book was a necessary choice for this moment at the end of this particular year, in part, because I wanted to settle back in to Didion’s exacting language after enjoying two of her books so much, and because I was seeking some political and historical perspective.

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Review: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

While a bit repetitive and about 100 pages too long, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” holds definite value for people searching for ways to be more effective and at peace with their choices.

“Essentialism” as advocated by McKeown is a personal philosophy of making deliberate decisions about where to spend one’s limited and precious time. It’s a mission statement aimed at reducing psychic clutter, regrettable personal commitments and extra “stuff” that ultimately does not matter in the greater scheme of one’s life.

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Sometimes marketers seriously overstep their boundaries

An open letter to the marketing team at Similac:

My mother sent me a text. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. (Hopefully, I think.) Why? Because you guys at Similac decided to send a box of infant formula – totally unwanted and unrequested – to me, care of my parents’ home address, where I have not lived in over a dozen years. I guess you stalked me on the internet enough to determine that I might be a woman, in my mid-thirties, and married, therefore potentially a child-bearing consumer profile, and you decided to send me a little “gift.”

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Review: Disrupted

Dan Lyons, ego bruised and career sidelined by an unexpected layoff from his job as a technology journalist for Newsweek, makes a pivot that seems like a sensible idea at the time: he joins the startup world and becomes a marketer for hot young marketing automation firm, HubSpot. Disrupted is a memoir of that startup adventure. It stirred a ton of thoughts and conflicting reactions for me, began many conversations and taught me a bit of new stuff about startups and venture capital. It also made me cringe and grin with schadenfreude. Issues aside, though, it’s a worthwhile read with a lot to say.

Brisk, cynical and often bitingly funny – just as you might expect from the author behind FakeSteveJobs – the book starts as a bitterly comic fish out of water story about a fifty-something man trying to fit in at a company he doesn’t understand: He seems constantly gobsmacked by the wacky energy of his Millennial coworkers, the lack of organization and structure to his days, the insistence of young people on using technology like smartphones and Google calendars to schedule even a five-minute chat, and of course things like beer at work, arts and crafts breaks on “Fearless Friday,” the nap room and the foosball tables. Continue reading “Review: Disrupted”

Review: The Alliance

This NY Times bestselling book about managing employees in the modern workplace offers one big idea. It’s not hard to understand and the book is filled with examples that are helpful and illuminating in varying degrees. Like most popular business and management books I’ve read, the “big idea” is driven home again and again, the content is a bit repetitive, the language is very easy to skim, and the book itself could have been one really great Harvard Business Review or Atlantic article, but was stretched to create a book instead. Fine, it is what it is. It’s still worth your time.

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Review: The Goldfinch

A young boy named Theo with a troubled family life survives a horrifying terrorist act in New York City that kills his beloved mother and changes the course of his entire life. So much happens in the lives of Theo, his family and friends over the course of nearly 800 pages that I won’t try to summarize the plot – besides, the twists and turns are best discovered in their own time, and whether or not you predict them, they are delightful.

At its heart, this is a novel about memory and loss, and about art, and the value of things. What could possibly be more important that the concept of value? Love, family, antique objects, singular works of art, the minutes of our lives – what is any of it worth, and how can we know?

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