Mini Reviews

I am like 5 books behind, and I’m less than 50 pages away from being 6 books behind. Since I’m about to go on vacation, I need to do something so I don’t get too far behind. I’m going to write mini reviews for 3 books I’ve read. While I’d rather give each book I read a full treatment, I don’t think that will be manageable considering the pace I’m going to be devouring books this summer.

I enjoyed Why Most Things Fail because Paul Ormerod, the author, levels some harsh criticisms of traditional economics. I find traditional economics to be lacking because it assumes that man is rational — agh, I can’t even write that without becoming philosophically flabbergasted. Yet as much as I love digging into economics, I find some of Ormerod’s comments distracting, like when he said that economics purged certain facts from its textbooks and said that Stalin would approve.

Ormerod presents the insight that big things don’t necessarily have big causes as if it is amazingly profound, but I don’t think it says much. He cites how residential segregation can occur merely from the sum of small preferences among many individuals. That was interesting, but the generality he drew from it was banal. It gets better when he gets more specific and says that business extinctions are primarily caused by endogenous causes rather than external shocks. The agents are very close to zero-information, but even a small amount of information can confer a great advantage. Eh, it makes sense when you’ve read the book. It’s convincing and he doesn’t delve too much into the math. This is good if you’re someone like me with almost no background in economics (aside from a college class and a high school class), but it is probably frustrating if you’re more of an expert. Then again, you could just read his papers.

This book really gets weak in the last chapter or so. His solution to surviving is to innovate but everything in the last chapters is less supported by facts than in previous chapters. He carefully presents a case for why things fail, but then what you can do about it seems tacked on, rushed. It’s an interesting read, but not very practical for someone who wants to use it to get ahead in business.

The main lesson I pulled from Don’t Send a Resume by Jeffrey J. Fox was to sell yourself to the company. Do your research, look for their needs, and convince them that you can solve their problems. This book purports to be contrarian, but much of it is translating job search stuff into sales jargon. It has concrete tips, but it would be even more useful if I had some background in sales. I’m going to read more books on selling.

I read Adversity Quotient by Paul G. Stoltz. In my view, it’s kind of a dissection of the virtue of resilience. Resiliency is a habit and it can be learned and improved. He even goes into some science. Glad to see science confirms what Aristotle figured out thousands of years ago.

Don’t catastrophize is a good tip of his and he presents some ways on how to get out of that mode of thinking. I’ve already been working on reframing things in my head. At the end of every complaint, I force myself to think, “Now, what’s the solution.” I’ve been forcing myself to be more positive. Thus, I didn’t really use the tips in the book. But I like to think that this means I’m on the right path.

The chapter on increasing the “adversity quotient” of others was really good. It teaches you not to lecture, but to ask questions. More importantly, it tells you which questions to ask. When people come up with their own answers they’re more empowered than when you tell them what to do. I think Stoltz’s techniques will be rather useful.

I like to criticize, but I enjoyed all three books much more than you probably can infer from this posting. I hope to improve my book reviewing skills as I do more book reviews.