Monday, May 20, 2019

Short book reviews, 2018-2019

February-May 2019

The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, LithuaniaBelarus, 1569-1999 (Part 1 Only). I'm heading to Lithuania this weekend, and found this book invaluable for understanding the origins of the modern state, not to mention some of the longstanding geopolitical issues involved.  

Think: Tools to Build Your Mind provides a relatively concise look at different ways to improve one's thinking and decision making processes. Perhaps more importantly, it's a great guide for me as I work to incorporate critical thinking strategies into my "Communication for Leaders" class at the Naval Postgraduate School. 

If you want to understand contemporary advertising and marketing, read The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. I found it an engaging, fascinating look at the origins of evolution of advertising through the lens of broader developments in the U.S. during the period from 1950-1970. 

Marie Kondo's much-celebrated The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up offers a perspective on how we deal with the material components of our life that I've yet to encounter in any of my other reading. She gave me the permission to think differently about "my stuff," and to consider whether or not specific items serve me in practical and even more substantive ways. 

The autobiography of Ofield Dukes, a leading African American public relations professional, highlights his personal achievements and participation in many of the leading developments in the U.S. civil rights movement. As such, it's a wonderful read and worthwhile to students of American history--and public relations practitioners as well.  

December 27, 2018

Helio Fred Garcia's The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis provides an important perspective to leaders grappling with the complexities of responding to a crisis. Garcia explores the actual decision making process in such contexts, unpacking the concept of "mental readiness" to unveil a suite of skills and attributes the effective crisis leader need cultivate to manage even the most difficult situations. Drawing on his experience and a range of case studies, he melds theory and practice to deliver a valuable contribution to our understanding of crisis leadership. 

November 21, 2018

The History Manifesto makes a compelling argument for the application of history to address ongoing challenges. In the process, the book describes trends in the study of and scholarship on history--a broad focus resulting in work looking at bigger issues considered over longer time frames, and a more narrow focus ("microhistory") with decidedly shorter time frames. The authors argue we need both, but it's really the former that offers perspective and insight that other practitioners (e.g., economists) cannot. 

In Courageous CommunicationMaryanne Dersch exhorts nonprofit organizations to "get off the attention treadmill" while jettisoning their preoccupation with trying to be all things to all people. Instead, their leaders should strive for authentic communication focused on connecting with true "advocates" and "allies" who support their organizations over the long term. I cannot find any fault with Dersch's argument, as it echoes my experience (less extensive than hers) in working with nonprofit organizations. I was confused by the mention of "codependence" in the title--particularly seeing how her subsequent use of the term throughout the book at best seemed incomplete based on what I've read about and experienced with codependency. That said, I imagine that nonprofit organizations seeking guidance in the marketing and communications arenas would benefit from reading this book. 

October 15, 2018

I've finished reading Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of HistoryI noted earlier this year (July 13, 2018) that very personal interests attracted me to this book. Yet it's an excellent case study of how individuals with noble and not-so-noble goals can create stories around events to suit their individual goals.   

September 4, 2018

I reread Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. I couldn't help but feel inspired and moved as I soaked in its plea to teachers to connect with themselves so that can, in turn, serve students better in the classroom. I consider the book a must for any teacher, regardless of whether they work in K-12 or higher education. 

I completed The New Retirementality by Mitch Anthony. It's a plea to rethink how we think about retirement, in advance of actually launching into that phase of our lives. While Anthony's a financial planner, the book ranges far beyond that area to consider the myriad issues and opportunities each of us will face in due time. 

I perused Aruna Apte's Humanitarian Logistics. This work, undertaken by my colleague at the Naval Postgraduate School, initiated scholarly exploration of the subject that first emerged in conjunction with responses to natural disasters in the first decade of the 21st century. Defined as "the special branch of logistics which manages response supply chain of critical supplies and services" (p. ix), it maps out research opportunities that in turn can help practitioners to improve their efforts in the field. 

August 5, 2018

I recently read French Lessons: A Memoir, by Alice Kaplan. She discusses her embrace of the French language and culture, which provided a new identity to fill a void in the culture in which she was raised. The descriptions of intersections between her Jewish upbringing, family life, and academic career particularly resonated with me. 

I also read "Pedagogy of the Distressed," an often-cited article that outlines one college instructor's personal evolution as a teacher. She began by focusing on "showing students how smart, knowledgeable, and prepared she was (p. 654)" In time, she focused more narrowly on the needs students, as she came to see each one "as a live volcano. . .a walking field of energy teeming with agendas (p. 659)" It's an instructional and inspirational read for anyone who teaches at the university level.  

July 25, 2018

I recently finished reading Meet and Grow Rich, which aims to be a primer on how to establish a successful MasterMind group. There's good material in the first part of the book, especially how it differentiates between different kinds of groups. Attracting members committed to your specific purpose is vital for success, the authors argue. I'm hopeful that the upcoming new edition of the work delves more into how technological developments since the first edition (published in 2006) have helped to strengthen MasterMind groups. 

July 13, 2018

I recently finished reading Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking. It's a wonderful, inspiring read about an artist (primarily a musician) who's unapologetically living a public, authentic life and using social media in support of that. She truly wants to connect with fans and others in meaningful, substantive ways. Her experiences in doing so haven't always been positive, as she's dealt with her fair share of abuse online. Nonetheless, she models how to meld the personal and professional in ways that can't fail to inspire people like me who I continue to grapple with such challenges. 

I've started to read Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History. It's a deep dive into a single event in the early 20th century that has had a significant impact to this day on Jewish history. My interest in the book was piqued for two reasons. First, my master's thesis explored French Catholic antisemitism in the late 19th century in response to the outbreak of pogroms in Russia in the 1880s. Second, I've been delving into my family's roots in Russia. I'll share more when I complete the book. 

May 20, 2018

I finished Irving Yalom's Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of DeathIt's a deceptively easy read but communicates powerful points about dealing with our mortality from a secular perspective. It helped me enormously to make further sense of my father's death in 2015 (and the loss of my job that followed shortly after it). 

April 6, 2018

Strategic Public Relations Management, offers a comprehensive look at what's involved in creating an effective campaign with an emphasis on research options and methodologies. Anyone without a grounding in that area (or who simply wants to brush up on skills) would find it invaluable for that reason alone.

Developing the Public Relations Campaign offers a different approach to the same topic. What it sacrifices in depth of treatment of any one aspect of a campaign it more than makes up for in terms of the breadth of its coverage. I'm confident that my students would be able to develop a campaign after reading this book. That's why it will be required reading in my course. 

March 16, 2018

Trying to figure out what's happening politically, culturally, and socially in Europe--and how to use that insight to better understand U.S. developments? Then you'll want to read Rethinking the Twentieth Century, a work by the late Tony Judt (in partnership with Timothy Snyder). As a dialogue between two eminent historians, it's an engaging and thought-provoking look at some of the broader issues at play today. For an even deeper dive, I'm now looking at another one of Judt's highly regarding works, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. More will follow once I complete the book. 

January 20, 2018

I recently read a new book, Impromptu: Leading in the MomentAs a professor of management communication and leadership/communications coach and consultant, I immediately sought out this book based on its title. By highlighting the prevalence of impromptu speaking opportunities, the author (Judith Humphrey) has identified a critical change and with it has mapped out concomitant skills and aptitudes individuals must master to thrive. The book overall offers a quick read with short chapters designed to serve as an ongoing reference. Humphrey covers a lot of ground here and that's a strength. 

That said, some chapters covered territory (e.g., the scripting template on pg. 98, how to handle questions and answers) that undoubtedly will be familiar to experienced communicators, Toastmasters, and others who've spent time looking at other books in the field. I wish Humphrey had mentioned some of these books (I'm thinking specifically of Roger Ailes' You are the Message and Thomas Montalbo's The Power of Eloquence) which would benefit the reader seeking additional insight. Her argument overall is sound, although the dichotomy between prepared and impromptu speeches is often fuzzier than the reader might conclude. To that point, many of her main points could just as well apply to occasions when formal presentations are required. 

These latter points aside, Humphrey has delivered a worthwhile book bound to be helpful to professionals seeking further insight into the complexities of communicating in our times.

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