Book Reviews 2018



I've read a lot of books over the past year. Each has been interesting, and I think they've each helped me grow in different ways. I should have done a better job of recording what I've read and what I've taken away from each book. Here's a brief summary of some of the more interesting books.

Daring Greatly

I was encouraged to listen to Brené Brown's TED talk about vulnerability. It's an easy to consume presentation, and I encourage you to check it out: This presentation was a glimpse of the main content of her book "Daring Greatly". This is an easy to read book, in a fairly conversational style, but filled with interesting clinical analyses. Brown is a researcher, so the bulk of her book is based on real research, rather than just anecdotal evidence of things.

I actually don't remember much of the details, and I didn't take any notes, but I do recall this as being a good book for me to read. It was a helpful starting point for me for where I was emotionally at the time. It might not be super useful to you, but it's a book of which to be aware.

Learned Optimism

Learned Optimism was extremely interesting and directly helpful to me, personally. Dr. Seligman studied what made some people fundamentally positive, and others fundamentally negative. The answer is "the stories we tell ourselves". He used a lot of experiments, and shares many of them in the book. The book, at times, ran a little long, or a little more clinical, than I would have liked; so I found myself skimming the later chapters, which were his attempt to provide actionable guidance for different kinds of life situations. The first half of the book had the most meat, for me.

Wikipedia has a decent overview of the concept of leaned optimism, and its opposite learned helplessness.

I found this book very helpful in learning to adjust my internal monologue. It didn't come naturally, or easily, but over the last year I have used what I learned from this book to actively adjust how I handle my internal responses to situations. My personal explanatory styles of personal, pervasive, and permanent tended toward the negative end of the spectrum, but Learned Optimism gave me a framework for making conscious decisions to at least acknowledge possible alternative explanations. This awareness slowly enabled me to intentionally choose alternate explanations for events. It's still not natural for me; and my default style is still often more negative than I'd like; but I am aware of a dramatic difference between how I think about things now versus how I did last year.

I highly recommend this book for all pessimists. I also recommend it for optimists, so that they might learn a little of how pessimistic people view the world.

Radical Candor

Radical Candor is a great book. I read it not because I am a boss, but because the skills necessary to be a boss are also generally useful to individual contributors, too. The primary content of this book is about interpersonal relationships, and how to view them within the context of a grid of options: Ruinous Empathy, Manipulative Insincerity, Obnoxious Aggression, and Radical Candor. Plenty of real-world examples of each are provided. The latter half of the book kind of veers away from the primary content and provides a little more thought on how to be a boss, how to manage your calendar, etc.

There is a Radical Candor website with some introductory content.

I highly recommend this book. It's easy to read, and provides useful information. The big secret is that to be radically candid you actually need to care about the person with whom you are interacting. It seems obvious, but the book does a good job of exploring the nuance of what this means, and how to operationalize it in different contexts.

Start With Why

Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, is the long-form book of this TedX talk. It's a little long winded, and I think it could safely be abbreviated without reducing the value. The primary argument is "People don't buy what you do, but why you do it." Sinek presents a number of examples that support his theory. It's a very conversational book, and easy to read. The examples at times feel a little contrived.

It's not a bad book, and I do recommend reading it if you have the time. I didn't have any major takeaways, but it has expanded the way I view business decision making, and personal motivation.

Some people really like Sinek and his message; while others don't.

Search Inside Yourself

Search Inside Yourself is a book that grew out of an internal Google program for staff development. It's extremely casual and conversational. The author has a definite sense of humor and employs it liberally throughout the text. I didn't finish this book, but I really liked it and I highly recommend it. The first part focuses on personal awareness, and offers a number of easy-to-learn meditative practices. It sounds a little hokey when presented without all the context in the book, I know. But the book does a good job of exploring personal mastery of one's emotional state, and provides real world examples of people with great control.

I didn't finish the book because the later chapters really focus on group interactions. The exercises in the book require multiple participants for interactive sessions. I would love to work through this entire text with a book club, if anyone is interested! There is also a formal training program whereby trained instructors can come onsite to facilitate classes. I'd love to do that, too!

This book, combined with Learned Optimism, seems like a real winning combination to me. Learning to adjust (or at least be aware of) one's explanatory style is greatly helped by this book's focus on personal awareness, and compassion.

More to Come!

I'm still reading books! And I'm making a real effort to take notes of the things I find most interesting or useful. I'll be sure to write summaries of them when I finish!

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