Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: The Future of Happiness

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Blankson, Amy. The future of happiness : five modern strategies for balancing productivity and well-being in the digital era. BenBella Books, 2017.

book cover imageAmy Blankson’s The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era presents an interesting and timely topic for readers who may wonder if there are better ways to manage their digital lives. Her author biography touts some impressive bona fides such as an Ivy League education and presidential Point of Light awards. While the topic is engaging, the book is not. Readers interested in this book may enjoy Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Braving the Wilderness, or How to Be Happy at Work.

The author chose to have her brother write the foreword, and his effusive praise immediately strikes the false note of over-selling. She relies on family as support for and evidence of the validity of her claims and assertions, which threads its way throughout the book and gives it an aura of an extended marketing campaign for her consulting firm and her brother’s books.

The book is divided into two parts: The Three Burning Questions and The Five Strategies. While the questions of where we are heading and what happiness might look like they are worth exploring, the question of whether we would be better off without technology seems dated and superfluous, especially given her central thesis of using technology wisely. This is a second pattern that repeats throughout; the good ideas are overshadowed by the tired and overused.

The Five Strategies section shares these weaknesses, and adds to them with a number of misstatements of fact. For example, in the Strategy #4 section, she states that the Cold War ended in 1963, that the Kennedy years were “pre-Vietnam,” and that Jimmy Carter founded Habitat for Humanity. These errors both distract from the main theme and undercut the author’s credibility. The strategies themselves aren’t particularly modern or innovative – stay grounded, know thyself, train your brain, create a habitat for happiness, and innovate consciously. Here again there are few worthwhile solutions, but many of her suggestions read more like the inevitable New Year’s resolutions article in the January issue of any number of lifestyle magazines.

Finally, the author points out another reason not to bother. She has a penchant for recommending specific apps that she likes. She even states, “I am keenly aware that by the time it [the book] is published, it will be somewhat outdated.” Interesting topic, poor execution.

Spring Break Reads

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

As 2017 drew to a close, Inc.’s contributing editor Jeff Haden published his list of the best books of the year, which are designed to help readers connect with ideas and perspectives that will help them make changes in their lives. Any one of these books would be an enjoyable read over Spring Break.

One Device by Brian Merchant. The iPhone is the bestselling and most profitable product of all time, but despite Steve Jobs’ claims, the smartphone is not solely Apple’s invention. Like any breakthrough, the smartphone is a collective achievement involving technologies no one heard of and innovators no one remembers. This is the story of the device, its history and worldwide impact.
Also available as an audiobook and eBook on OverDrive.

Superconsumers by Eddie Yoon. The most knowledgeable and emotionally connected buyers comprise only 10% of all customers, yet these highly fixated superconsumers generate up to 70% of sales and profit. Numerous case studies, anecdotes and data show how these consumers can be tapped to shape strategies and products.

High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. Six habits practiced consistently lead to exceptional long-term results across multiple domains of life. Perhaps most salient are the first and last habits. The first is to seek clarity — know yourself and what you want. And the last is to demonstrate courage — stand up for yourself, your ideas and others.
Also available as an eBook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

Principles by Ray Dalio. Reflections on life lessons learned from a long and successful career in investment management include a time-proven process for making choices and achieving goals. This book advises readers to be clear about what is wanted in life and to design a plan to attain it, and explains Dalio’s personal concepts of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency.
Also available as audiobook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. This book on resilience combines personal experiences and academic research to show how after a devastating loss, it is possible to recover and find deeper meaning in life. Those who develop compassion for themselves and draw on their own and others’ support can persevere over hardships such as illness, natural disasters and war.
Also available as an eBook and audiobook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Brown, Brené. Braving the wilderness : the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Random House, 2017.

book cover imageDivisions seem to define the current cultural moment for many of us. Instead of seeing each other’s similarities, we focus on the ways in which we are different. This skewed focus leads to loneliness and a lack of interpersonal connection. People are seeking answers in an effort to heal the pain caused by this unhappiness.

In her new book, Braving the Wilderness, author Brené Brown tackles this tough issue with clear advice and surprising suggestions. In this follow-up to her bestselling Rising Strong and Daring Greatly, Brown points to the idea of true belonging as the solution to creating lasting relationships with others. She defines true belonging as being consistently true to who you are, your values, and your beliefs, even when it is difficult to do so and you find yourself standing alone. She further describes this paradox using the framework of a Maya Angelou quote: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all.” Occupying this place of true belonging, in which you are authentic even when it creates discomfort, brings one into what Brown calls “the wilderness”: a place that is unforgiving yet sacred, dangerous yet breathtaking.

With the destination defined, Brown gives the reader the tools to reach the wilderness where true belonging lies through her BRAVING acronym: boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, non-judgment, and generosity. These seven elements of trust are the keys for a person to find both true belonging with themselves and to foster authentic connection with others that can not only withstand, but dismantle, the barriers that make us feel isolated from one another.

Through clear writing, relatable personal anecdotes, and pertinent research data, Braving the Wilderness guides the reader through difficult terrain with grace. However, it stops short of diving into the underlying causes of our cultural divisions. Readers of Brown’s previous works will also find some data reused in this concise and approachable introduction to authenticity and self-trust in troubled times.

Braving the Wilderness is also available as an eBook on OverDrive, an audiobook on OverDrive, and on Notable Business Books Kindles at the Ford Library.

Book Review: Dollars and Sense

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Ariely, Dan, et al. Dollars and sense : how we misthink money and how to spend smarter. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.

book cover imageIn Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter, Dan Ariely, bestselling author and James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, teams up with Jeff Kreisler, attorney, author and comedian, to examine our irrational thinking and behavior with respect to money. While written for a general audience, the book references numerous scholarly studies and provides complete notes to undergird the authors’ observations and analysis. It is divided into three sections: how we define money, how we (mis)-assess value, and how we can think more clearly about money.

Part One lays out some basic characteristics of money and a couple of complicating factors in thinking wisely about it. The authors define money as a common good that is general, divisible, fungible and storable, and they remind their readers of the principles of opportunity costs and relative value. While these characteristics and principles are straightforward, they probably aren’t the first things we think of when we consider our finances.

Part Two is the bulk of the book and here the authors lay out the myriad ways in which human beings think unwisely about money — everything from avoiding the pain of paying, to overvaluing what we already have, to looking only at price to determine value. They also point out how much of our modern financial system has responded by doubling down on our unwise thinking to divide us from our hard-earned money in the easiest and most painless ways. This section is sobering and could be downright depressing, since, by being human, every reader will have fallen into one of more of these unwise thought processes. However, the saving grace of the book here and throughout is its humor, much of it self-deprecating. This humor provides the reader with a sense of common ground and with the comfort that even the experts are not immune from a slick sales pitch.

Part Three explores what we can do to mitigate the effects of our magical thinking about money. While we can never be — nor want to be — completely rational about money, there are things we can do to think more wisely about it. The authors point out what should matter in our decisions — opportunity cost, true benefit, and real pleasure — and what should not — sale prices or ease of payment among others. They provide suggestions for how we as individuals can think correctly and exercise forethought and self-control, and for how we as a society could transform our financial systems and use new technology to help us act more wisely.

In sum, Ariely and Kreisler present the sober truth about our irrational ways with money in a humorous and engaging book that is thought-provoking and hopefully, behavior-changing.

Dollars and Sense is also available as an audiobook on OverDrive, as an eBook on OverDrive, and on Notable Business Books Kindles at the Ford Library.

WSJ: Best Business Books 2017

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Every year, the Wall Street Journal asks writers, academics, business owners, athletes and assorted interesting people for their recommendations for the best books of the year. Here’s what the contributors said for 2017:
recommender image“It’s been a strong year for books on economics, business and technology, according to Mohamed A. El-Erian, author and chief economic advisor at Allianz. He recommends 7 books from 2017, including: Principles, “Ray Dalio’s illuminating discussions of what has driven his and Bridgewater’s success; Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella’s engaging discussion of both his personal journey and the opportunities facing tech as Microsoft successfully reboots; and The One Device, Brian Merchant’s detailed analysis of what has gone into the creation and proliferation of the iPhone.”

reviewer imageDuff McDonald, author of the HBS critique, The Golden Passport. “I generally can’t stand books about management. An exception: Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. This is a book about life, about finding flow, the state of peak performance that no spreadsheet can model.”

reviewer imageDenise Morrison, CEO of the Campbell Soup company recommends two books: Thank You for Being Late and The Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Disruption is the new normal across business, politics and culture … These books explore how the supernova speed of changing technology is outpacing human evolution and our ability to manage through the change.”

reviewer imageCo-founder and President of Lyft Inc, John Zimmer reflects that “the happiest moments in life are those when we feel most connected to family, friends and the community around us. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging does an excellent job highlighting how we need to reclaim our sense of true community.”

reviewer imageOf all the books she read in 2017, CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi felt that Radical Technologies stood out. “It describes some of the ways innovation is transforming our daily lives…It’s a fascinating glimpse at what we can achieve when we embrace the changes happening all around us and infuse our lives with the spirit of possibility.”
Duke users can read the Wall Street Journal article, “Books of the Year: 12 Months of Reading”, in ABI/Inform Complete. Duke username and password required.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Two Books on Business Improv

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Comedic actor Bob Kulhan, founder and CEO of Business Inprov, explains that if people know anything at all about improv, it is the basic technique – the use of two words: Yes, and… “Yes” shows that an idea has been heard; “and” builds on that idea. Yes, and there are two books about improvisation in business that employ those words: Yes, And by two Second City executives; and the book, Getting to “Yes And” by Kulhan himself.
book cover imageKulhan, Bob and Chuck Crisafulli. Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv. Stanford Business Books, 2017.

Bob Kulhan is the instructor of Fuqua’s week-long MBA Workshop on Managerial Improvisation that begins at Fuqua on Jan. 8. He begins his book Getting to “Yes And” by demonstrating how the art of improvisation is used in business. When faced with rapidly changing circumstances, managers use their knowledge and experience to explore possibilities, synthesize information and create a quick response. While performing in the moment, these managers react rapidly yet deliberately, drawing on intellect, focus and training to make swift decisions about what actions to take.

Most of Kulhan’s book reveals what he teaches in his course, including fundamental communication skills: how to use improv to listen, influence and inspire others; how to develop a personal brand; how to improve business meetings. He also shows how to ramp up physical and mental energy; how to use improv to guide a team; and how to break down silos within a company. Near the end of his book, Kulhan thanks several Fuqua faculty members and congratulates the Fuqua School for being ahead of the curve in using improv for business.

Getting to “Yes And” is also available as an eBook.

book cover imageLeonard, Kelly and Tom Yorton. Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration… HarperBusiness, 2015.

“Business is one big act of improvisation,” according to two executives of Second City, Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton. Their book describes how improv training increases innovation, creativity and confidence, while reducing judgment. Yes, And covers some of the same topics as Kulhan’s book, but the many stories from Second City make for lighter fare and more amusing reading. Descriptions of exercises used in improv theater, such as One-Word Story, Follow the Follower and Silent Organization, are included.

Leonard and Yorton admit, “We don’t believe that any one book holds the whole truth, and there are a variety of interesting and worthwhile paths one can take when reaching for goals.” Agreed. These two books are complementary and both are recommended for readers interested in business improv.

Yes, And is also available as an eBook on OverDrive and as an audiobook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: The Richest Man Who Ever Lived

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Steinmetz, Greg. The richest man who ever lived : the life and times of Jacob Fugger. Simon & Schuster, 2015.

book cover imageThe November issue of Money magazine features “The 10 Richest People of All Time.” Bill Gates is #9, the only living super-rich person on the list, his net worth totaling $87 billion. Two other Americans are on the list — Andrew Carnegie, #6 with an inflation-adjusted net worth of $404 billion, and John Rockefeller #7 with $385 billion. Several names on the list are unfamiliar, including Money’s #1 richest man of all time, Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, a West African kingdom.

Nowhere on Money’s list is Jacob Fugger who, according to journalist Greg Steinmetz’s calculations, was truly the richest man who ever lived. Fugger lived in the dawning days of international trade, banking and capitalism, of mining and industry. It was the time of Columbus, Isabella and Ferdinand; of Machiavelli, Martin Luther and King Henry VIII. Fugger financed Magellan’s iconic voyage around the globe. He financed the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I and the Habsburgs’ rise to power. As “God’s Banker,” he financed the Vatican. His shady deals provoked Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses, triggering the Protestant Reformation.

Jacob Fugger is the subject of Steinmetz’s book, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived. Fugger started life in 15th century Germany as a commoner and ended up the preeminent financier in Europe. His family lived in Augsburg (now in Austria) and were prosperous textile traders. When he was a teenager, Fugger’s mother arranged an apprenticeship in Venice, at the time the most commercial city in Europe, where banking and accounting were new inventions. He returned to Austria to expand into the profitable new industry of the era – mining – and he developed into an aggressive businessman with a talent for managing customers, a tolerance for risk and a genius for negotiation.

Fugger’s approach to business was modern. He understood monopoly power and tried to corner the market in precious metals. Investing in research and development, he pioneered new technology. He knew the power of market-sensitive information and created a news service, couriers who raced between cities with market tips and political updates. He maintained special relationships with kings and emperors and bought political favors. He surrounded himself with lawyers and accountants. By monitoring his accounts closely, he understood his financial exposure at every moment.

Greg Steinmetz is a gifted storyteller. Characters and events in the book come alive. His Jacob Fugger is a champion of private property and unfettered markets, the first modern businessman to pursue wealth for its own sake. But he also shows Fugger as a ruthless capitalist, who squeezes his workers and bullies his family. Fugger’s life illustrates the founding of today’s world economy.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Wall St. Journal Best Bets

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Each week, the Wall Street Journal publishes a list of Business Best Sellers. Some books, such as the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team or Emotional Intelligence 2.0, stay on the list for years. Others are new works by CEO’s, journalists, academics and other thought leaders.  These four new books are on this week’s WSJ Business Best Sellers list and the Ford Library just loaded them onto our Notable Business Books Kindles. As you head out on Thanksgiving break, take home a Kindle collection.

book cover imageKim, W. Chan and Renee Mauborgne. Blue ocean shift : beyond competing. Hachette Books, 2017.

In this follow-up to their 2005 bestseller, Blue Ocean Strategy, two faculty members at INSEAD draw on 30 years of their own research into strategy in large and small organizations to reveal how to move beyond competing in existing crowded markets to creating new market opportunities. Using just 5 steps, they show that success is not about dividing up an existing pie, but about creating a larger economic pie for all.

Also available on Notable Business Books Kindles.


book cover imageDalio, Ray. Principles. Simon and Schuster, 2017.
Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio shares his personal journey from commodity trader to hedge fund titan, including his reflections on lessons learned from his investment and management mistakes.  He shares his process for making choices and achieving his goals, explaining concepts such as Radical Truth and Radical Transparency. He advises readers to be clear about what they want in life and to design a plan to attain it. Radical Truth: disappointing.

Also available on Notable Business Books Kindles and as an audiobook on OverDrive.


book cover imageGalloway, Scott. The Four : the hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Portfolio/Penguin, 2017.

In this rambling monologue interrupted by napkin sketches, entrepreneur and NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway analyzes Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — their strengths and strategies, their economic models, their ambition, innovations and risks, and their social consequences. In the second half of the book, he dispenses career and business advice based on his experience with start-ups.

Also available on Notable Business Books Kindles and as an audiobook on OverDrive.


book cover imageBurchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits. Hay House Inc., 2016.

Using research on individual and team performance, author-coach Brendon Burchard identifies six habits that when practiced consistently lead to exceptional long-term results across multiple domains of life. Perhaps most salient are the first and last habits. The first is to seek clarity — know yourself and what you want. And the last is to demonstrate courage — stand up for yourself, your ideas and others.

Also available on Notable Business Books Kindles.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Sharing the Work

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Strober, Myra. Sharing the work: what my family and career taught me about breaking through (and holding the door open for others). MIT Press, 2016.

book cover imageWelcome participants in the Duke MBA Weekend for Women! You are already on the road to achieving power and purpose in your life, a road that was not always open to women. Those who came before you struggled to open the gates at work and at the university. While there are challenges ahead, you must achieve your dreams and break through the remaining barriers for others who will walk your road in the future.

Myra Strober is one woman who opened the gates in academia. In her 2016 memoir Sharing the Work, Strober completes a PhD in economics from the “quintessentially male” MIT in the 1969 and accepts a teaching position at the Univ. of MD. She follows her husband to Palo Alto, where he has a medical residency and assistant professorship at Stanford. Strober is offered a teaching position at Berkeley in 1970, but as a lecturer not assistant professor, because she is a woman. Soon after, the U.S. Labor Dept. begins investigating discrimination against women at universities and she is offered assistant professorships at both UC Berkeley (Economics) and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, although at a low salary.

When Strober joins the all-male faculty at Stanford GSB, she finds her colleagues to be polite, but they exclude her from their informal networks. When she presents her research on the economics of the childcare market, they pronounce her arguments as outrageous. They take umbrage at having to move the annual faculty retreat away from a male-only club. She teaches macroeconomics to MBA students but the men who make up 98% of the class behave in a hostile manner.

Strober’s research on gender and employment is published in A-list journals and books. She develops an interdisciplinary course on women and work, which she teaches for 40 years. She launches and leads the successful Center for Research on Women at Stanford. She organizes conferences. But when she comes up for tenure, she is denied. Not long after, Strober accepts an offer from the Stanford School of Education as a tenured faculty member.

When this reviewer earned a BA in economics and an MBA in the 1970’s, all of my instructors in economics and business were men. Since that time, opportunities for women in academia and in the corporate world have improved, but more change is needed. Women need to open the remaining gates for themselves and for those who will follow.

Also available as an eBook.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Popular

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

book cover imagePrinstein, Mitch. Popular: the power of likability in a status-obsessed world. Viking, 2017.

There are many likeable people on the Ford Library staff, and this summer one of the most likeable of all heard an interview on NPR featuring the author of a new book titled Popularity. Our librarian was sure that the book would become a runaway best seller but that has yet to happen. No matter, this engaging book shows how popularity profoundly effects people every day and offers insights on how to experience a happier life.

UNC chaired psychology professor Mitch Prinstein begins his book by explaining that there are two types of popularity, status and likeability, but only one of them is valuable. Status involves being well-known and influential. In high school, cheerleaders and athletes have status. In adult life, this group includes CEO’s and celebrities, but also ordinary people who strive for prestige, wealth and beauty. Sadly in later life, status-seeking individuals tend to be troubled by discontent, anxiety and depression.

Prinstein explains that the other type of popularity – likeability — confers lifelong benefits. More than intellect, ambition, or socioeconomic status, likeability is associated with future happiness and career success. Behaviors that make children likeable – being helpful, cheerful and kind — directly translate into how satisfied, successful and physically healthy they will be decades later. Likeability is also associated with close and caring relationships as well as personal growth. Likeable adults have more friends and higher self-esteem.

Likeable people live in a different world than their unlikeable peers – one of their own making. Choosing to be more likeable begins with small adjustments in current behavior, such as a friendly hello to a student in the mallway, a single act of kindness, or a smile. These small social cues will be picked up by others and reflected back. We both influence and are influenced by others’ likeability in a feedback loop all day long. If everyone were more likeable, they would be treated better every day. And Fuqua would become a better place for all.

Also available as an ebook on OverDrive and as an audiobook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.