Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

22 Mar 2012

Posted by under Book Review,Dave's Thoughts


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, 2009, Riverhead (ISBN: 978-1594488849)

This is a very thought provoking book that complements other books that I’ve read over the past while. In particular, it complements the ideas found in The Element by Ken Robinson which I reviewed a couple of years ago. Like The Element, this was an audiobook, however this time I got distracted part way through and it took about 8 months to finish it off. Brenda and I listened to the last three chapters on a road trip to Lethbridge last weekend.

Dan Pink’s thesis is similar to Ken Robinson’s view that personal fulfillment is tied to having interest, passion and opportunity combine in a way that allows individual potential to be realized. In Drive, however, the idea is broader and looks to the source of personal motivation, the idea that each of us is best motivated to achieve a desired outcome when we are driven by autonomy, purpose and mastery. That is, when we choose (autonomously) to do something meaningful (that has purpose) through the exercise of our skills and strengths (mastery) we will persevere to accomplish our aims. This internal or “intrinsic” motivation is far more powerful than external (“extrinsic”) motivation – the carrot and stick approach. The majority of the book circles around this idea and supports it with fascinating research and examples

What struck a particular cord with me was how Pink argues that the industrial model of work and education that has been the norm over the past 3 or 4 generations is ill-suited for the creative, collaborative demands of the 21st century knowledge based economy. Mediocrity beckons to any of us that bow to the demands of the social systems that require compliance and “fitting in” as the prerequisites to getting into the “right” school, getting a good job in a cube farm and retiring with a fat pension. It isn’t the 1950’s anymore. I look at my kid’s school and it is all too clear that the purpose of public education is to bash the spark of creativity and individuality out of my children and shame them into conforming, fitting in and memorizing facts that they could look up on Google in a heartbeat. I don’t want my kids to learn compliance – I want them to be engaged in life, to think on their feet, to challenge the status quo and to seek purpose in something greater than themselves.

This clip, from The RSA, is where I first heard of Daniel Pink and Drive – it is well worth spending 10 minutes watching.

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27 Feb 2011

Posted by under Book Review

You say you want a revolution…

In this case, the industrial revolution. Like most, maybe all, revolutions, the industrial revolution began uncertainly, proceeded unsteadily and eventually changed the world unreservedly.

The Industrial RevolutionariesThe Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914 by Gavin Weightman (ISBN 978-0-8021-1899-8), 2007, Grove Press
This fairly hefty 400+ page book is less of a comprehensive history of the immense changes of the industrial revolution than it is a collection of essays, flying in loose formation. The 21 chapters proceed in rough chronological order from the roots of modern industrialism in the mid-18th century England to the dawn of the modern era signaled by the Great War. Each essay addresses a particular aspect of the changing technologies, political fortunes, industrial processes or cultural imperatives sparked by the enlightenment that moved the world from it’s dependence upon wood, stone and animals towards something new – steam and electricity, steel and iron.

The arc of the movement of industrialization through history is a fascinating look at mankind’s simultaneous penchant for amazing, insightful creativity and astounding, obstinate unwillingness to change. Yet change comes regardless, often times through the exertions of individuals seeking only to better their own situation rather than through some desire to improve society at large. The industrial revolution was not driven by grand political movements, but by the sum of the efforts of hundreds and thousands of scientists, tradesmen, engineers, businessmen and entrepreneurs. To be sure, the politics of empires and colonies, grand navies and wars, industry and agriculture all shaped the progress and pace of the industrial revolution. Yet the concept that shines through is that of the individual seeing and then seeking opportunity in the new-found technological marvels that the industrial revolution both created and consumed.

Not surprisingly, the pace of industrialism varied widely – advanced by insightfulness and systematic encouragement by industry or government then retarded by protectionism and legal roadblocks. In America, for example, the petroleum industry sprang out of obscurity very rapidly when oil-men, used to digging for oil with picks and shovels, thought to engage the services of salt-well drillers to drill for oil. Soon the availability of oil led to the development of the internal combustion engine and eventually the automobile. However, America’s entry into the automotive industry was delayed for over 20 years by the existence of an absurd patent application held by one man who effectively blocked all progress until Henry Ford eventually won a lengthy legal battle contesting the patent.

Weightman’s book is a worthwhile read for anyone with a curiosity to understand more about the dramatic changes that became the foundation of the modern age. The style is a little elliptical and it can be a challenge to keep the names of the key figures straight as they interweave with each other through the narrative, but overall I found it to be an engaging and informative work.

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05 Aug 2010

Posted by under Book Review

Dam Busters

Given the recent significant interest in the family regarding Lancaster bombers, when I saw an old copy of The Dam Busters lying on the kitchen island, I decided to give it a go…

The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill (ISBN unknown*), 1951, Pan Books
This classic World War II book recounts the story of the famous raid on the German dams in May 1943. The story begins with Barnes Wallis contemplating how he might use his skills as an engineer and aircraft designer to shorten the war and describes the challenges that he faced in persuading a beleaguered military command structure to hear out his ideas. In hindsight, it is easy to see the genius in Wallis, but at the time his ideas surely would have seemed outlandish.

Eventually the military command is convinced that the scheme to destroy key German dams with Wallis’s “bouncing bombs” is feasible and the book describes the formation of the famous 617 Squadron of the RAF who were, at great cost, able to carry out the raid on the dams. At this point the focus shifts away from Barnes Wallis and onto the airmen of 617 Sqn, who despite an early reputation for being given suicidal missions, eventually become renowned for their precision bombing and their ability to destroy highly fortified enemy targets.

The Dam Busters literary style shows a heavy British influence in it’s elliptical and somewhat flowery prose – it is dated but seems to suit the era described. The sense of fatalism of Bomber Command aircrews is quite evident – not surprising given the very high casualty rate of bomber crews, with aircrew having only a 1 in 4 chance of surviving a tour. In all, a good book that has stood the test of time over the past 60 years.

*The ISBN standard did not exist until 1970. Although the edition of The Dam Busters that I read was a 1978 reprint, it appears that no ISBN was issued.

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01 May 2010

Posted by under Book Review,Dave's Thoughts

What’s the Story?

A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - coverA Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (ISBN 978-1-4002-0266-9) 2009
This book surprised me in its simplicity and impact. A short book (254 pages), written in a conversational and approachable style, but very thought provoking. The premise of the book revolves around author Donald Miller’s responses to being approached by two film makers who wish to turn his previously published memoirs into a movie. In the process, it becomes apparent that the real Don Miller is not an engaging enough character to create a good story for the film. This realization prompts the author to reconsider how important it is to live a good story if you want your life to tell a good story.

But then the going gets tough. Good stories have conflicts and explosions and difficulties at every turn, the protagonist is only interesting when struggling against the odds. Who wants to struggle against the odds? As Jack Handey says, “It’s easy to sit there and say you’d like to have more money. And I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.”

Living a good story takes effort, and it takes a trigger to move the story along. This trigger, or “inciting incident” in literary terms, is the footfall on the cornice of snow that starts the avalanche – once begun, there is no recourse, no returning things to the way they were. Authors create inciting incidents to force characters into action, to enter a doorway through which there is no return. Only then does the story get interesting and move forward. Real life is similar and, just like the character in a story, no one really wants to change. Inciting incidents are uncomfortable and unsettling, but without them, the story is flat and uninteresting. Everyone loves to be able to tell a good story about their life but few people are excited about the work that it takes to overcome conflict to make the story happen.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a call to live more intentionally, to think about the story you are living and consider how interesting it is to tell that story. Not many will ever have a movie made of their lives, but for the small audience of friends, family and your own self – creating inciting incidents to move our lives and our stories along is essential. This is more than simply “beginning with the end in mind”, for the trigger may open up avenues that could not be predicted; it is “beginning with the story in mind” and then letting the story unfold, developing our character along the way.

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