Tag Archives: book

Book Review: Crucial Confrontations

Crucial confrontations book coverMany of us would admit to failing to face up to people who have let us down. The authors of Crucial Confrontations provide numerous examples of this effect that have led to serious cost to companies, human relationships and even lives. However, observing the problem isn’t enough to solve the problem, because the problem lies in people’s ability to confront people. More specifically, it lies in their perceived ability: people think they won’t be able to have a productive confrontation, so they avoid doing it.

Luckily, as well as diagnosing an insidious problem this book provides clear and actionable advice that could be helpful to anyone, whatever their current level of communication skills. The authors blend well-observed general principles with specific examples from professional and personal contexts. They have done particularly well to reduce a potentially confusing topic to a single clear model that is simple enough to comprehend and general enough to be useful.

The scope of the book is both broad and narrow. It’s narrow in that it focuses almost exclusively on a single case: people who have violated an agreement or expectation. However, in a sense this still has great breadth since these situations occur in all walks of life. The examples in the book show how the principles apply equally well in work and at home.

I never feel like I’ve written a fair review unless I’ve picked a few holes in a book, and I’m struggling to do so here. The worst I can say is that this isn’t an instant classic, if for no other reason than its narrow scope. However, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be well advised to give it a read.


Book Review: Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction

medical_ethicsThe “Very Short Introductions” series is by and large very good, but I have two concerns. Firstly, books in the series are often more strongly opinionated than one might like in a general introduction.

Secondly, I worry that the books don’t really form introductions to a subject at all, but rather “bluffer’s guides”, that are the first and last book a person picks up on the subjct. To pick one subject I’m reasonably familiar with, I have a long-standing suspicion that teaching mathematics to a casual audience is worse than useless. Even when the reader is an active student of the subject, these books can be used to bypass study rather than to inspire it (at least according to anecdotal evidence from my fellow students).

Happily, neither of these concerns is a significant problem for Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. The author allows his opinions to show through, but is admirably even-handed, even generous in setting out contrasting views.

As regards being an introduction to the subject, this book fulfils its remit very effectively. The area covered is broad enough, and the background information great enough, that the book does little more than scratch the surface on important topics such as euthanasia, genetics and mental health. The necessary background in logic and philosophical rigor isn’t neglected either, with a brief section cleverly slipped in once the reader’s appetite has been whetted by a few philosophical conundrums.

I have very little to criticise about this book. It did feel terribly constrained in what it covered, and stylistically it felt like a longer book cut short to fit the publisher’s requirements rather than a perfectly-turned short book. No sooner had I started to get interested in a topic than the chapter ended—but then of course this is exactly what an introduction should be.

Book review: What Color is Your Parachute? 2010

parachuteWhat Color is Your Parachute? is a wildly successful career guidance book that you’ve almost certainly already heard of. It claims 10 million copies sold, not least because it is updated yearly with new web links and gratuitous references to Twitter.

The 2010 edition is labelled the “Hard Times” edition, and spends a lot more time commiserating the fact that you obviously won’t have a job because the economy is so poor. Notwitstanding this reassurance, it’s hard to see what practical benefit is offered by this focus on the bad economy.

The book’s subtitle hints that it is aimed at “job-hunters and career-changers”, and indeed it is a book of two almost unrelated halves. Many (perhaps even most) people will find themselves needing only one half of the book.

The job-hunting advice is solid, but not ground-breaking. The author emphasises networking and building relationships, and has sensible practical advice on the details. The tone is friendly, light and personable. The advice is mostly uncontroversial, but is distinctive enough to be memorable. All in all, you could do much worse if you need help with seeking a job, although the quantity of content is a little light compared to a dedicated job-hunting manual.

The section on choosing a career is where the book really comes into its own. The author clearly feels that a career should be a passion and manages to strike an encouraging tone. There are a number of well-thought-out exercises that help elicit ideas in an area that often leaves people flummoxed. Again, I was left with the feeling of wanting a little more content than I got in this section.

Overall, there’s a lot right and not too much wrong in this book. It’s well worth the money if you’re troubled by the job hunt or want to get yourself out of a career rut.

But wait! Two flaws…

Firstly, this is a book targetted exclusively at the US market. The majority of the contact details provided, and some of the advice, will be of no use to British readers (who I assume are over-represented in this blog’s audience). For a book that sells so many copies, it’s annoying that a UK edition hasn’t been produced. Even if the changes were mostly in removing irrelevant content without adding much, it would make for a less frustrating experience.

Secondly, the author was once an ordained Episcopalian minister, and some may find his religion shows through rather too much in this book. The main body of the book is fine, but the first appendix dives straight in with the Unexpectedly Capitalised Pronouns. In fairness to the author, he understands that many readers will have a different religious perspective or no religious belief at all, and encourages people to interpret his words into their own world view. Nevertheless, the appendix on the Mission that He has provided you in His infinite goodness will polarise the readership, and many people will find it distasteful.

Personally I was happy to see an author speaking from the heart, and felt that this made for a better chance of insight than a soulless politically-correct tract with all the passion carefully removed so as not to cause offence. Having said that, I’ve worked harder to understand religious belief than many atheists, and I found it heavy going and ultimately impossible to connect with. If this ruins the book for you, then you’re probably too sensitive, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.