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Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave. His trench billowed faintly, brushing the tops of tombstones as he made his way through Merit Cemetery, humming as he went. The sounds carried like wind through the dark. It made Sydney shiver…

He stopped humming, rested his shoe lightly on a tombstone, and scanned the dark. Not with his eyes so much as with his skin, or rather with the thing that crept beneath it, tangled in his pulse.

That’s from the first page of Vicious, a novel by V. E. Schwab. Perhaps I should just let the writing speak for itself, but I’ll add a couple of things. First, while the quote suggests that Vicious falls within the horror genre, it actually draws more from the superhero genre. Second, the most horrifying (to me) revelation comes a few pages in to the novel, when we find out what Victor’s parents do.

I have so far read three of Schwab’s novels, and been impressed by each of them. I just finished Vicious. I previously read A Darker Shade of Magic, also “by V. E. Schwab”–and hence also “for adults”.

I started with The Archived, “by Victoria Schwab”, the name under which the author publishes her Young Adult (YA) fiction (and the name on her main Goodreads account). Strange though it may seem, I’d say that The Archived is the most likely of the three books I’ve read to give the reader nightmares.

I’m glad to say that each of the three is the first of a series. I am sometimes wary of prolific writers who write series, rather than standalones, but Schwab writes well and distinctively, while being able to find the right tone for each particular book/series.

Summary: I recommend the fiction of Victoria E. Schwab, whatever the book cover calls her.

Books: To E- or not to E-?

December 14, 2014

16019808532_3c6a940a6c_oI love books, and am getting used to the idea that a book isn’t necessarily a physical object. These days, I buy more books made of electrons than books made of dead trees.

The photo shows the first three books in Lemony Snicket’s current series, All the Wrong Questions. Each is in different form.

  1. Who Could That Be at This Hour? I have in hardback. I’d been meaning to try out the series for a while. I bought this particular edition because it was only $4 at a book fair at my kids’s school. Reading it made me want more books in the series, preferably in dead tree form. Although this is not a long book, this is a pleasingly chunky volume, with apt illustrations by Seth.
  2. When Did You See Her Last? I have in paperback. I bought it from Amazon, where the paperback edition was $7, and the Kindle edition only 35c cheaper. Still I wanted more.
  3. Shouldn’t You Be in School? I have as an ebook: on Kindle, to be specific. That edition was only $2 when I bought it (it now, a couple of weeks later, $4). I did have some concerns that the illustrations wouldn’t work as well on a tablet’s screen, but the cover and other illustrations show pretty well, I think.

As you can see, price sways me toward ebooks, but a lower ebook price doesn’t always defeat dead trees. But sometimes time defeats dead trees: a download takes seconds, rather than the hours or days involved in dead tree pickup or delivery. Sometimes ebooks win because they don’t take up shelf space, or gather dust.

How do you make the decisions between the ebooks and dead tree books?

Some rather hardy MBA students recently asked me for book recommendations, on top of the book I’d just recommended to them, which in turn was on top of the books and other materials I’d assigned for the course. This post provides those recommendations, and shares them with you, even if you are not one of the students who made the request. (It also provides an Amazon affiliate link to each of the books, but I’ll be pleased if you just consider some of these books, and there are lots of other ways to obtain them.) The book I recommended is:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. I recommend it for reasons including the following. It’s about an important and interesting topic: how people influence each other. It is founded in research (including Cialdini’s own research), but it is approachable and applicable. It is well-structured, with each of the six central chapters focusing on a different “weapon of influence” (e.g., Liking, Authority). Each of these chapters includes a section on self-defense, that is, on resisting assaults using this particular weapon. So the book is for, not just influencers, but also potential influencees.

Two of the books I did assign for the course belong here. Each is similar to Influence in that it is approachable, applicable, founded in research, and relevant to “behavior in organizations”*.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Dan Pink is not an academic researcher, but he does make sure that he understands research relevant to his topic. In this, my favorite of his books, his topic is motivation, especially intrinsic motivation. Driven blends clear explanations of research with strong examples from practice, and suggests ways in which readers can better harness their motivations.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman is one of the most influential social scientists of the last hundred years. He is a psychologist best known for his work, with Amos Tversky, on judgment and decision making. He won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Why did research in psychology earn the economics prize? Because it showed how human judgment and decision making depart from rationality, and it did so convincingly, extensively, and influentially. This book makes Kahneman’s thinking about human thinking very accessible. While it might be more academic than Influence or (especially) Drive, it is also more personal: it is dedicated to Tversky’s memory.

I wrote something similar to this post for Business Week about eight years ago. BW asked a bunch of business school profs for book recommendations: mine are still online. The first recommendation from 2006 certainly belongs here.

Co-Opetition by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff. I wrote in BW that:

This is my favorite book on business strategy. The combination of competition and cooperation has become if anything more important in the decade or so since Co-Opetition was first published. It delivers solid content while avoiding heavy writing.

The only change I’d make to is to note that it’s now almost two decades since Co-Opetition was published, and it continues to wear extremely well. In fact, looking back to BW, but without looking back into all the books, I would still make most of those previous recommendations (although if you want a view from two veterans of The Economist magazine on how the world is changing, you might go with their recently-published The Fourth Revolution, rather than A Future Perfect).

Although the title of this post refers specifically to business books, I see that my BW piece concluded with recommendations for fiction, including some fantasy. I do still enjoy novels set in other worlds, such as:

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. If you follow the link, you’ll be able to look inside the book and read the first few pages. (See, these Amazon links can be useful to you.) If you enjoy those early pages, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of the book. If you enjoy the book, chances are you’ll enjoy the second and third in the series.

That’s enough from me for now. Please feel free to leave your comments, whether they be remarks on the books recommended, recommendations of your own,… Thank you for reading this far, and thank you to the students who prompted this post.

* What I term here behavior in organizations is more often, but less logically, called organizational behavior (OB). It is related to organizational psychology and to a bunch of other more or less impressive-sounding terms.

tsih-paperbackDan Pink is a five-star author, but To Sell is Human is “only” a four-star book. Having started with that sentence, I should explain it. The best start to the explanation is a quote from the book itself. “Clarity depends on contrast… The most essential question you can ask is this: compared to what?

To Sell is Human (TSIH) is a four-star book compared to other books by the same author, and to other books about the same thing. Now, what is TSIH about? The answer, obvious from the title, is: selling. It is less obvious from the title that this is a book, not only about sales, but also about “non-sales selling”.

“Non-sales selling” is Dan’s term for “moving other people to part with resources—whether something tangible like cash or intangible like attention—so that we both get what we want.” A survey commissioned for the book showed about 40% of respondents’ work time devoted to non-sales selling. (I did a far smaller and less formal survey with a graduate school class, with a similar result.)

So non-sales selling is very similar to influence, and Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human shares its subject with Influence: Robert Cialdini’s classic account of the psychology of persuasion. Dan is explicit about his knowledge of, and respect for, the earlier book, especially in his chapter on clarity: Influence tops his list of favorite books on the subject. Dan’s judgment is sound: if I were to recommend one book on non-sales selling, it would be Influence (rather than TSIH).

The contrast with Influence may be more harsh than it is fair: TSIH does in some ways go beyond Influence, rather than attempting to go head-to-head with it. Most important, To Sell is Human is a book, not only about non-sales selling, but about sales selling and about change. Selling cars provides a salient example. In the past, the seller was much better informed that the buyer. That information asymmetry has been eroded over time, particularly by the internet. Dan argues that it is now better business, as well as better ethics, to sell based on empathy with the buyer than to attempt to exploit the (potentially well-informed) buyer.

However, sales selling and non-sales selling seem like strange bedfellows, or bookfellows: they don’t fit into the same book as naturally as they perhaps should. This is one of the reasons why To Sell Is Human isn’t in the same five-star class as Influence, and some of Dan’s other books. I could list a few other reasons, but none is major, and it’s time for a shift toward the positive.

TSIH is very much a Dan Pink book, with all the good things that implies. Dan explains convincingly why his subject is interesting and important. He makes each topic engaging with practical examples, draws on and clearly explains relevant research, and provides practical implications. It sounds easy, and Dan’s books make it look easy, but many similar (i.e. popular social science) books end up being superficial, stodgy, or both.

TSIH does not need to be pushed off a bookshelf by Influence and by Dan’s other books, however much this review might have so far put it up against those strong competitors. TSIH complements those other books as much as it competes with them. For example, Influence’s Epilogue warns of the threats lurking in an environment rich in content, when much of that content comprises attempts to influence us, and many of those attempts are deceptive or worse. TSIH is very much about the content-rich environment, but is more positive, and not just because this environment provides buyers with information previously reserved for sellers. The very volume of content provides opportunities for curation: to select from the abundant content, to share the selection, and thus to add value.

With TSIH, Dan also complements his best book: Drive. Drive is about motivation: what drives us. TSIH is about how we can move others. There can be few aspects of psychology as important, or as mutually complementary, as what drives us, and how we can move others.

One last complement is Dan’s website, since it complements his books well. One last compliment: To Sell Is Human is a very good book, and one that I might perceive to be even better were it not for the comparisons invited by a Dan Pink book about influence.

Groundswell Paperback

June 7, 2011

Three years ago, I received a review copy of Groundswell, the book about “social technologies” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. I was very impressed by it, as my review post shows.

I see from Charlene’s blog that a paperback edition is now available. There are a couple of new chapters. One is about “social maturity”, on which Josh posted recently.

The other new chapter is on Twitter, which has grown to be as big as a (fail) whale in the three years since the Groundswell hardback. In some ways, the addition of a chapter on a particular tool goes against a strength of the book. To quote myself: “the authors resist the temptation to provide a lot of detail about specific tools… the tools will change.”

Perhaps the addition of a Twitter chapter is an implicit prediction that Twitter is here to stay, at least for a few years. If so, then the absence of a chapter on Facebook is interesting…

New Stuff Tuesday

August 31, 2010

Tuesday (here in the USA at least) is new release day. That includes albums, in MP3 form as well as in disc form. It also includes books.

So I just bought the new album by my favorite musician, Richard Thompson. Dream Attic is like a live album in the most obvious way: it was recorded before a live audience. It’s the new RT album in that the songs are new, not having appeared on any previous album. It’s more like a live album in that RT stretches out on guitar more than on any of his studio albums.

Because of the guitar-stretching, the 13-track album comes in at 70+ minutes. For us old folk, that sounds like double (vinyl) album length. Slightly younger folks might note that it’ll almost fill the CD to which you burn it. Respectable folks will note that you should buy it before you burn it. You can do so from all sorts of places: Amazon, eMusic, RT’s own website, etc.

Those who understandably want to listen first can do so at AOL’s listening party – but, strangely, not at Spinner, which is owned by AOL, includes a new releases “listening party” and has a coolish name, as well as some interesting additional content.

Yet others might wonder what an album is, and how anyone could muster the attention span for over an hour or music by some greybeard. So the embed for this post is the 6-minute minimix.

Back in the real/analog world, I just got a package from Amazon including a couple of last Tuesday’s dead tree book releases: Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games); and The Second Siege(paperback).

Happy new media day!

Books are sadly limited things once they are wrapped in DRM (see previous). Now even the word book may be limited.

Facebook has filed suit against Teachbook.com, an online community for teachers. The lawsuit accuses Teachbook of “misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of Facebook’s trademark.”

I don’t think that’s satire. I think that Jennifer Van Grove wrote it for Mashable with a straight keyboard.

The hounds of “intellectual property” have made enough toothmarks on enough books. Now their foul fangs slaver for the word book itself.

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