Tag Archives: success

Hung Upside Down

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle (Viking, $27.95, 299 pages)

Up Side of Down

Yes, it’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your failure and keep on trying. Megan McArdle advocates a remarkable approach to achieving mastery and success in The Up Side of Down, an unusually titled book that is part pop culture/psychology, part memoir, and contains a whole bunch of useful information.

megan_mcardle

The book opens with an easy-to-understand definition of failure. Building upon the definition, McArdle expands the reader’s knowledge base by exploring the way societies operate. Her examples are spot on (e.g., California’s disastrous electric power deregulation and the collapse of the Soviet Union). Both of these events resulted in catastrophic failures – contrary to the economic theory of “creative destruction.”

McCardles’s example of mastery and success is charming. She sets up scenarios where the results of teamwork exercises are compared. The comparison is between a group of kindergartners and teams of MBAs and engineers. The task assigned to these teams is the construction of a tower of spaghetti. You’ll need to read the book to find out which team won.

While the book has a lively mix of pertinent examples of failure in each chapter category (virtuous society, experimenters, crisis), the threads that tie them together are admittedly sketchy at best.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Stillpower (preview)

A review of Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life by Garrett Kramer.

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Get Over It

From This Moment On: An Autobiography by Shania Twain (Atria Books, $27.99, 448 pages; Audioworks/Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.99, 7 CDs)

An autobiography from a 45-year-old?   Oh my, yes!   Shania Twain has done enough living in her 45 years to put most everyone else in her age group into the category of slacker.   Shania’s deep love of music and the comfort it has provided through a really hard life gives her the right to tell her story.   Although she has received the accolades only dreamed about by singer/songwriters the world over, it is doubtful many of them have experienced the level of childhood deprivation and anxiety that motivates her career.

The version reviewed here is an audio book that is unique because the introduction and epilogue are recorded in Shania’s own voice.   The text of the autobiography is read by Broadway actress and writer, Sherie Rene Scott.   Scott’s voice resonates with the simple, straightforward attitude conveyed by Shania’s words.   Most autobiographies are intended to provide the writer’s side of a story or an event of particular note.   In this case, the narrative serves to inform the public that becoming a world-wide success in the music industry is a daunting task with serious downsides.

Ms. Twain, who began her singing career very early in life as Eilleen Twain, did so at the prompting of her mother.   The family often did not have enough to eat or a secure roof over their heads.   The tale is straight out of a mournful country song.   Daddy and mommy are trapped in a cycle of poverty and spousal abuse, the children are forced to become self-indulgent at a very young age, and tragedy strikes just when Eileen thinks she has escaped the grip of her childhood.

There’s no need to dwell on the timeline or life events that serve as milestones.   The internet has taken care of the particulars for anyone who can use Google.   Rather, it is the one-on-one experience of hearing about Shania’s feelings of yearning and betrayal that are the payoff for a reader/listener.   In some way, the audio book seems the best way to experience her life.   True, there’s no checking back a few pages when a particular passage is noteworthy; however, enough of her wisdom comes across in the telling that the essence is clear and well experienced.

One curiosity of note is that the vocabulary and grammar in the book are well beyond the level of formal education that Shania received in her childhood.   She states that when she was out on her own, she spent time writing songs and playing music while her roommates attended college.   Perhaps Shania absorbed the tone of the more educated people around her.   There’s no doubt that she has a great capacity to learn and benefit from her diligent efforts.   That said, a thoughtful and sensitive editor no doubt assisted in making this a compelling read (or listen).

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A copy of the audiobook was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.   From This Moment On is also available as an Audible Audio, Kindle Edition, and Nook Book download.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Ever Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong by David Shenk.

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Be True to Your School

Practical Genius: The Real Smarts You Need to Get Your Talents and Passions Working for You by Gina Amaro Rudan (Touchstone, $24.99, 203 pages)

Ready, set, GO!   Professional development and training coach Gina Rudan can be a bit overwhelming as she enthusiastically offers up her philosophy for success.   Summed up it is – Be the best you by mining deeply held inner goals while simultaneously exploiting people who may be able to assist your climb upward.   Oh, and always maintain personal integrity by selflessly promoting the ones your are using.

That’s quite a challenge; however, Ms. Rudan offers herself as the poster child for this method.   She jumped ship from the Fortune 500 employers of her past to begin a second career as a consultant.   Clearly, the field of personal development is a crowded one that spans several decades.   M. Scott Peck, Jack Canfield and David Shenk immediately come to mind.   Dr. Shenk is listed because he too has written a book specifically focused on the topic of genius, The Genius in All of Us.   His view of genius and ways to achieve it are expressed in a calm, well-considered approach.   (A review of the book will be posted next on this site.)

Ms. Rudan’s target audience appears to be the 35-40 year old female who is at a point where she is stuck in her professional life.   The spin for Rudan’s method is a bit titillating with “the Other G spot” and dating rules for those who can assist with a climb into practical genius status.   She stresses the need for personal congruity – a balance of hard and soft assets.   It is at the intersection of one’s marketable skills (hard assets) and personal passions, creativity and values (soft assets) where the Other G spot exists.   Finding that spot and making it yours is the point of the book.

Each element of the process is thoroughly developed; however, this reviewer found the bouncy enthusiasm and perspective shifts in the early chapters a bit unsettling.   Moreover, the rambling in some sentences makes the case for keeping it simple:

Expressing your practical genius is not about expressing the limitedness of our personalities or egos but more about expressing wonder of the depths of the oceans of who we are as complex multi-dimensional creatures.

The later chapters get down to business with boxed hints for the reader and lengthy descriptions or definitions of what Ms. Rudan thinks is the ideal mix of characters that will become the players in the reader’s life changing drama.

Given today’s legions of unemployed and underemployed persons, this book may have an audience in persons seeking more than just putting food on the table and a roof over one’s head.   Then again, maybe it does not.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Kiss From A Rose

The Weird Sisters: A Novel by Eleanor Brown (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; $24.95; 336 pages)

“See, we love each other.   We just don’t happen to like each other very much.”

This is the story of three sisters, and of their retired Shakespeare-spouting professor father and a mother stricken with cancer.   They are three very different sisters, which is what creates the tension in this family novel.

Firstly, there is Rose (Rosalind), the oldest and the smart one, born six years before the second child and twelve years before the youngest.   She has found a perfect man to marry but with one small problem:  He’s teaching at Oxford and wants to stay there, thank you very much.   Secondly, there’s Bean (Bianca), the glamorous middle daughter fired from her job in New York City due to a crazy little thing called embezzlement.   She’s not quite perfect.   And, thirdly, there’s Cordy (Cordelia), the baby, the wild one pregnant with the baby of an unknown father.   Cordy’s always been a wanderer.   Is she finally ready to settle down?

It’s their mother’s cancer that brings them back together under the same roof in a small town in Ohio.   There’s not much oxygen to spare…  You are likely thinking that this is going to be one very predictable read; if so, you would be wrong.   This is a novel that surprises and delights.   Author Eleanor Brown seems to tell the story flawlessly – I kept searching in vain for the seams in the tale.   They’re there somewhere, but they seem to be woven with invisible thread.

Brown’s journalistic voice contains a beautiful tone – it is never too strong nor too weak.   It simply feels like one is listening to someone accurately describing and detailing the events of three sisters’ lives.   And there’s likely more than a trace of real life in this tale, as the author just happens to be the youngest of three sisters.

“There’s no problem a library card cannot solve.”

Anyone who loves literature and the greatest writer in the English language will treasure Brown’s educated and clever references to the writings of William Shakespeare.   Each of the daughters is, of course, named after a character in one of the Bard’s plays, and their lives sometimes feel as if they’re characters on a stage.

As the story unfolds, each of the daughters must deal with their mother’s mortality and with their own coming to grips with what it is they actually want out of life.   In one sense, each of them must decide between an external version of achievement and an internal one.

Boomers and those of a younger generation will identify with the struggles of these late-maturing sisters:  “When had our mother gotten so old?   Was it just because she was sick?   Or was this happening to us all without our noticing?…  There was no use wondering about it – we were all getting old.”

“We were all failures,” thinks Bean at one point about herself and her siblings.   But they all wind up successes in a story that is wrapped up so beautifully well.   Contentment is the reward for the reading.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   The Weird Sisters was published on January 20, 2011.

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What Goes Around Comes Around

On September 19, 2010, we posted a preview-review of On the Line: A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel by S. J. Rozan (St. Martin’s Press).   The book was released 9 days later, and we’ve learned that the author posted this reaction to our review on her blog:

Success!

“If reading a suspense thriller by David Baldacci is like driving in a new Porsche, reading a private investigator thriller by S. J. Rozan is like riding through the streets of New York City in a turbo-charged go-kart.   You never know what you’re going to bump into!”

Now that’s a review!   Seriously, since what I was going for was a whole new style – and exactly that one – it’s a gas to know that, at least for one reviewer, I’ve succeeded.

Read the whole thing here – https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/hold-the-line/ .

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The Other Wes Moore

other wes moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (Spiegel & Grau)

“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.   The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

This uniquely titled nonfiction book was written by Wes Moore, the Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Army paratrooper and White House Fellow.   He is the successful Wes Moore.   His namesake from the same town on the east coast is serving a life sentence in the Jessup State Correctional Institution.   The crime was murder and there is no possibility of parole.

The author’s recent appearance on the Oprah Show gave this reviewer the opportunity to observe him in the spotlight.   He came off as poised, charming and amazingly confident.   I wondered if this was an act, perhaps a well-polished persona that wins friends and influences people?   There are plenty of hucksters who achieve fame.   The book would provide the answer.

Within the first couple of chapters it was obvious that Wes Moore is beautifully literate, yet without pretentiousness.   What you see is definitely what you get.   His unfaltering curiosity about the other Wes Moore has resulted in a book that explores the outcomes for both these men and how they arrived at adulthood.

The story revolves around two young men with all-too-familiar life circumstances that include being an African American male raised by a single parent living in a poor, or declining, urban neighborhood.   The narrative is set forth in three major phases concerning their coming of age.   The fellows and their life experiences are differentiated as the author uses the first person for himself and the third person for the other Wes Moore.

The story is filled with painful realities – it’s easy to fall into the gang life; defensiveness and alienation are part of each day; and escaping the neighborhood (Baltimore or the Bronx) requires courage, determination and sacrifice.   The author began his life with two parents raising him; however, due to a tragic medical condition his father died of a rare but treatable virus.   The other Wes Moore only met his father once, accidentally in passing.

Each man encountered challenges as well as opportunities.   The opportunities were provided by family and friends.   Always there is balance in the presentation of each man’s life including photographs that illustrate the text.   They both tried and failed more than once when attempting to change the course of their lives.   The difference in the outcome can be characterized by the expectations placed upon the author and his willingness to keep trying regardless of how hard the challenge might be.   He was also immensely fortunate to have family who were willing to make financial sacrifices to obtain some of the opportunities.

Wes Moore, the author, has included a comprehensive resource guide at the back of this book.   The nationwide listing features organizations focused on assisting youth.   Because this list is a point-in-time snapshot of resources, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised to see that a continually updated version is available on the internet.

A reader who is interested in learning more about success and how it can be achieved would be well served to read The Genius in All of Us by David Shenk.   Both books explore the impact of environment on personal success and the role hard work plays in achieving it.

The Other Wes Moore:  One Name, Two Fates will alert a reader to the possibilities for a better future for our youth, especially children who face undeniably tough circumstances.   Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The Other Wes Moore was released by Spiegel & Grau on April 27, 2010.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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