The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Something unusual has happened.  I am someone that generally likes the first part of a story the most.  Aliens and The Empire Strikes back are the only exceptions that leap to mind and those aren’t even books.

In Patrick Rothfuss’ followup to The Name of the Wind, I think he may have made the tale even better.  In book two of The Kingkiller Chronicles, we continue to follow the life of Kvothe from everyman to superman.  All of the things that made the first book great continue to appeal with the second.

I could drone on, but if you like an engaging unconventional story, I suggest you give this series a try.  Start with The Name of the Wind and I bet you’ll continue through this book too.  It could be that I’m still pumped, just having finished the book, but it really seems like this is the best candy book I’ve read in many years.

Quick Reviews of Two Books: 61 Hours by Lee Child and The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler

61 Hours by Lee Child is the 14th book in the Jack Reacher series (recommended in my recommended books section in the right sidebar).  Just like all of the others in the series this one makes a great companion as an audio book while traveling.  The action is almost non-stop, the characters are easily identifiable and the plot has some nice twists and turns.  Melanie and I both agree that this is our favorite one in the series or favorite one in a long time.  It isn’t preachy or overly focused on a love interest, but you do figure out the ending before it arrives.  A recommended fun read.

The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler is not exactly what you’d expect.  I decided to burn through this book because of my recent lightsaber purchases and because a fellow SW aficionado said it had stuff in it that he didn’t already know.  I thought that this subject had been bled dry a couple of decades ago.

The title implies yet another book focusing on design and special effects tricks when it actually tells the tale of how the movie came to be.  It deals with the persons and personalities that made it all happen.  You learn about the contractual details between Fox and Lucas, the working conditions, etc.  There are lots of pictures that I hadn’t seen before that focus on the people.  It is a little like looking at a scrapbook from an ILM or Lucasfilm employee.  Perhaps the most interesting things are the quotes from the various people taken from interviews immediately before and after the movie’s release.

It is an expensive book and a must have for any SW completest.  For the rest of us, I recommend checking it out from the local library.

The One Minute Entrepreneur by Ken Blanchard, Don Hutson and Ethan Willis

While we were at the library recently, I was helping Melanie find The One Minute Manager and ran across this book.  As I know I’ve mentioned in other book reviews, it has only been in recent years that I’ve really started reading self improvement books.  Now that I’ve read several in a row in a short time period, I see that many have a similar style no matter what the message is.  They tell a story and interweave the lesson.  The chapters usually end with bullet points highlighting main ideas.  They are usually short and quick t0 read.

The One Minute Entrepreneur falls squarely into this category.  It’s a good book offering solid advice through all the stages of a company’s life cycle.  I’m sure I’ll read it again as my business grows.  Is it the greatest self help book I’ve ever read?  No.  The story is fairly clunky and the statements that are made are very basic.  For example, you are encouraged to make sure that your income exceeds your expenses.  This seems stupid simple and it is but, when things get complex and fast-moving, it is easy to forget the basics.

I think anyone reading this book will be happy if they approach it as a list of helpful reminders at each stage of business development rather than secrets or carefully explained techniques to business success.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

I just finished reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.  It isn’t a new book on finance but one that I’ve heard referenced many times by finance gurus.  Some people really like it and others can’t stand it.  Even though Mr. Kiyosaki’s thoughts are not particularly radical, they are more risky than many people would care to stomach.  He pushes concepts and wants you the reader to pick up on why he does something but I know that some people get hung up on his examples of how he did it.

He might be discussing how he used real estate to make a lot of money in a short amount of time.  His point is to make sure that you make your money on the front end of the deal.  Maybe it is with a guaranteed buyer after you buy or paying less than market value.  Some people will take this message to heart and apply it to various forms of investing.  Others will just be mad that he used real estate for his example claiming that money can’t be made in real estate any more.

I found the quote from the book below to ring particularly true.  I have worked with folks that were less talented, less intelligent or less experienced before.  If they managed to get the better end of the deal it was usually because they were good negotiators.  I’m not talking about salaries as much as negotiating choice projects and work load.  It usually boils down to how you defend your position and workload in the big meetings that determines what your to-do list is going to look like.

The most important specialized skills are sales and understanding marketing.  It is the ability to sell – therefore, to communicate to another human being, be it a customer, employee, boss, spouse or child – that is the base skill of personal success.  It is communication skills such as writing, speaking and negotiating that are crucial to a life of success.

Reading through section three of chapter eight, which is entitled “Laziness”, is worth your time.  I can’t quote the entire thing here but know that there is a part (or parts in my case) that will almost certainly apply to you.

Overall the principles are sound and good to know.  The particular way he invests is too risky for my taste.  His writing style is inspiring and I’m sure stirs many people to action.  Overall, it is a good and worthwhile read, but it does not make my list of top recommended reading (on the right side of this website).

Strengths Finder 2.0

As you have probably picked up by now, much of my brain power is spent on my career search right now.  It is very difficult to move forward when you don’t know where you want to go.  For most of my life I have not been a fan of self-help books but in recent years I have found a few that make sense to me.

My biggest problem with career books is that they fall into two categories:  1. Vague generalisms that are a waste of time and paper  2. Specific actionable items that require information you don’t have.  Let me explain further.

With the general books you get phrases like “work hard and make your boss look good” or “think about a time when you were happy at work and make that your full-time job.”  I suppose if you had never thought about your career at all, information like this would be useful.  But only then.

In the books that try to solve your specific career problem, they face the difficult challenge of getting you to realize something that you didn’t already know about information that you do already have.  The bad books or tests in this vein might ask you “Do you enjoy working outdoors on a construction site where you are in charge of those around you?”  “Maybe you should be a foreman or an architect.”  “Do you feel architect-y?”  These direct questions do very little to help.  If I knew that architecture was an interest of mine, I would have pursued that career already.  The good tests tend to be more oblique.  “Is it more important to solve the problem or get the right answer?”  They force you to think about yourself in a new way.

I mentioned to my friend Charlie last week that in the book No More Mondays (reviewed recently) a big take away for me was focusing on your strengths.  This may seem obvious to some of you, but I grew up during a time when everyone – movies, teachers, parents, friends, coaches – all reinforced the idea that you spend your time improving on your weaknesses.  Maybe it is just because it has been so ingrained in me, but I still feel like this is a legitimate thing to do.  Everyone needs to have a certain level of competency in fundamental areas of life.  It makes living much easier and more enjoyable.

This book got me thinking that there must be a time when it is appropriate to stop doing that, or at least limit it severely.  Maybe when a person graduates high school they shift from general studies to focusing specifically on their strengths.  This can be different than what they think they want to do.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I’m not saying people should focus on careers that they won’t like.  I’m saying that if a person approaches a career based on what their strengths are rather than what they think is a cool job, not only will they be more likely to be much better at it, but they will have a lasting enjoyment of it.

This leads me back to Charlie.  When I relayed all of this to him, he mentioned that his office had just had all of the employees go through Strengths Finder 2.0.  He let me know that this was exactly the point of this book.  It was very focused on one thing – determining your five strongest attributes.

Needless to say, I screamed over to the bookstore and bought it the next day.  It is an easy read with an online test.  The entire process couldn’t have taken more than a couple of hours.  The test takes about 30 minutes.

Be forewarned, you only get to take the test one time so make sure your internet connection is working properly, you are in the right frame of mind and you don’t have distractions.  It is a timed test giving you 20 seconds to make a choice between two answers.

Some people have complained that they didn’t feel like the results were a good match for them.  I found the test to be incredibly accurate.  I may have disagreed with a few points and there were a couple of statements that didn’t apply to me, but about 99% of it was very true.  Some of the participants alluded to thinking for a long time before answering or putting what they wanted the answer to be.  My guess is that this is what screwed up their answers.  The instructions let you know that you are being timed to force you to react instinctively.  Want to know more about why this is a good way to respond?  Read the book Blink (reviewed here).

Others complain that the test does not give any job recommendations and it may not for every strength.  For four of my strengths, it did mention some general job characteristics I should explore.  For example, “a technical job”  “paid to analyze data, find patterns, or organize ideas” “financial or medical research” “risk management.”  While I think adding typical or suggested jobs for each of the strengths would be a huge plus, I don’t think it is a gyp that they didn’t do this.  The book is very clear that this is a test to help you understand who you are not what your career should be.

Your personalized report does give a long list of suggested actions to develop your strengths.  It also includes quotes from people who share your strengths.  This section is entertaining and, if you agree with the selections it has made for you, really reinforces that it has picked your correct strengths.

Where I choose to complain about this book is the system it uses.  You are required to buy a book that gives you an access code to a website for an online test.  You may only take the test once.  Once the code has been used, the book is worthless.  All of the strengths interpretations that apply to you are given to you in a PDF document at the conclusion of the test.  These exact same interpretations make up the bulk of the book.

I can understand why this was done from a marketing perspective, but it would have been nice if they would have provided the option to take the test on the website without the book for a slightly discounted price.

Overall I highly recommend this book.  Everyone’s results will vary but what do you have to lose?  In the best case scenario you will gain key insights into what you are good at and begin to think about how you apply them to your career.  In the worst case, you will have spent $12-20 and a couple of hours of your time.

WARNING:  DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK USED.  IT IS WORTHLESS IF THE ONLINE CODE HAS BEEN USED ALREADY.

PROS

- Quick and easy to do – simple to complete in an evening

- Accurate

- Useful

- Reasonably priced

CONS

- Must buy a book to take the online test

- Book is of little value and useless to anyone after one use

- Can only take the test once

48 Days to the Work You Love and No More Mondays

The overarching impression I get when reading Dan Miller’s books is someone spread a bit too thin.  He has good ideas and his writing style is easy to digest, but his books lack the punch or insight I’m expecting.

His website is not very well organized and it is difficult to find things even when you know they are there because his books mention them.  I was looking for the online appendix for No More Mondays and it wasn’t at the URL listed in the book nor did I find it on the website.  I ended up tracking it down in a blog elsewhere by doing a Google search and the comments are not very positive on the quality or timeliness of the links.

All the same, I think this is more because Dan might be doing too much with too few support people than I think his information is bad.  My guess is that he would be an excellent career counselor and a good public speaker.  Maybe I’m just expecting too much tailor-made information from books that must be general purpose.

I’ve read both 48 Days to the Work You Love and No More Mondays.  They provide some good solid ideas but only a couple of items have made a lasting impression on me.  Most of the content is stuff I’ve heard many times before or is common sense.  There are literally only two or three take-away statistics or concepts for me from both books combined.

Having just finished reading No More Mondays, I can say that I almost didn’t make it through the first half of the book.  I didn’t think I was going to get anything out of it, but by the end it had me thinking about concepts I had let slip by the wayside in my career search.  The last couple of chapters are well worth reading if you are looking for a new career.

It also provided a nice statistic.  It presented the idea that you are most likely to become a millionaire if you are a business owner – roughly seven times more likely than if you are senior level executive, doctor, lawyer or other traditionally high paying job.

Overall, I cannot strongly recommend either of these books, but don’t feel that they are a waste of time either.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

I recently went to a business seminar and on the way there and back I listened to Blink on audiobook.  I have seen interviews with Malcolm Gladwell on Charlie Rose before and knew I wanted to read this book or The Tipping Point.

The basic concept of the book is that there is a conscious mind and an unconscious one that we use for decision making every waking minute of our lives.  With the advent of technology that can capture our reactions, slow them down and let them be studied at a high degree of granularity, we are able to get a glimpse into our subconscious.  Even when we try to mask them, our faces give away true feelings for a split second.  Experts see something and immediately know it is “wrong.”  We are talking about things that happen in literal split seconds – the time it takes to see an image and push a button.

Gladwell goes through multiple fascinating examples and builds a strong case by repeating and building on his principle ideas.  Not only does he raise awareness about the unconscious influence, but he discusses when it is smart to let it be in control,  when it should not and how to control it.

It did seem like he was stretching with some of his examples.  Some seem to have been forced to fit a little and some seemed a little bit like the frog experiment.  The one where the researcher says “Frogs ears must be in their legs.  I make a loud noise and they jump one distance.  I cut off a leg and they only cover part of the distance.  I cut off both legs and they don’t jump at all.”  Nothing presented is at that extreme but there are some things that seem to need more explanation and probably more research for conclusive proof.

There is a good reason this book is such a big seller.  It is hard for me to imagine an adult who wouldn’t enjoy this book and learn something from it.  I really liked it.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I’m trying to alternate between reading books that improve me and entertain me with the goal of reading six books that teach me something valuable this year.  Right now I’ve just finished up my next candy book.  I selected The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and couldn’t be happier that I did.  If you like to read books set in realms where Tolkien tread, this book is for you.  Make no mistake, this is not a book of highest fantasy.  One of my favorite concepts shows that magic is tied to physics in this universe.  The characters are believable enough.  The story is fast paced and unorthodox which I loved.  If I can guess most of the time what is going to happen next, you have lost me (Yes, I’m talking to you Avatar).  My only quibble is that since a good portion of the book is told as a flashback, much of the peril is removed from the main characters.

Overall, I’m very happy to have read this book and would say it is one of the best of its kind.  I’m looking forward to the sequel.  Maybe it will be out by the time I’m ready for my next for-fun book (I never believe the Amazon should-be-available-by dates).

Fantasy Book Recommendations

I just ran across a tweet for this post recommending other books to people who like The Name of the Wind, which as you can see from the book list on the right side of website, is what I’m reading and enjoying now.  The Lies of Locke Lamora sounds very intriguing to me.  I like fantasy.  I like Ocean’s 11.  Could be good.  Please let me know if you’ve read any of the listed books and what you thought of them.

Next up for me will be some self-improvement book but then it will be back to some dessert reading.  Gimme something sweet to read!

On Writing by Stephen King

Here is my review of On Writing as I promised here.

I know that he’s written a bajillion books, but I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Stephen King’s work before this book.  I don’t care to read horror fiction and his It miniseries on TV soured me to his work.  After all that cool build up it was a stupid spider?!

Shortly after I secured the domain name for this website I figured out that writing was a big part of it and that it would be worth my time to try and improve.  A quick search lead me to recommendations for On Writing so I thought I’d give it a shot.

It’s a short fast reading book that made me laugh many times.  Of course there is good information on how to write but King wraps it in the story of his life, saving the reader from a dry textbook experience.  Even if I didn’t learn a thing from the book,  I would still want to read it for the fun of it and I bet you will too.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who can stand a few cuss words.

Do you have any other books on writing that you’d recommend?