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P. Robertshaw (London, England)

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Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society
Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful on many levels, 12 Mar. 2010
Though it may not be at the forefront of everyone's thoughts, it is hard to overestimate the influence and impact of both the individual members of the Royal Society and the society as a whole has had on our modern lives. Through the work of the 22 contributing authors, this book attempts to shine a light on some of these areas of influence and impact and, in my opinion, succeeds quite successfully.

Covering the 350 years of the Royal society, with topics ranging from the place of science to influence politics and policy when dealing with matters of uncertainty (parallels with the present global warming debates), through to the amount of science and mathematics that is hidden behind the scenes in almost everything we do today. The scope of the book is understandably large.

Echoing the views of the earlier reviewers, some of the submissions are easy to read and appreciate, with some of the others, for me, requiring a little more persistence. Though, all of them are well worth the effort involved.

With its wide range of subjects, I believe the book offers a great introduction to a fascinating and integral part of the history of our modern day lives. Further to that, by crafting the book from the submissions of a good selection of prominent figures and writers, I have also gained some insight into authors who I had not come across before but shall be reading more of in the future.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Quick, "Expert" opinion, 12 Jun. 2009
Blink, the power of thinking without thinking, has three main themes:

1. Someone who is deeply knowledgeable about a subject will sometimes be able to make instinctive assessments about a situation or subject but may not be able to articulate their rationale

2. The part of the human brain that is involved in making snap - blink - decisions can routinely be influenced by some very deep-seated associations, which many people may find uncomfortable and which may go against our higher-level cognitive beliefs

3. If you are going to end up in a situation where making snap - blink - decisions will have life changing ramifications, take precautions to create enough space and time to prevent the darker side of snap decisions from taking over

Whilst unlikely to change the world with this offering, Gladwell does a good enough job of pulling these themes together with a variety of examples, citing studies and examples from academia, business and society. Overall, the book is very easy to read and well written. (Just in case any potential readers are under any misconceptions, it should be noted that the book is not an endorsement for everyone to go around making snap decision about every aspect of their lives).

Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur
Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur
by Sir Richard Branson
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little rambling and egotistical but a good read nevertheless, 31 Jan. 2009
To me, Business Stripped Bare reads somewhere between an act of ego-polishing for Mr Branson and another interesting insight into how a very successful businessman sees the world and in turn how this impacts how he sees business. Setting aside any discussion about his actual or relative level of successes and his admitted transgressions with the law, it cannot be denied that as a brand Virgin has certainly achieved a global status and for that reason alone I would recommend this book for anyone interested in business.

The book itself is very easy to read, I'd image similar in fact to having a conversation with the author. As a result of this, it does sometimes feel somewhat rambling, possibly a little like a "left-brain" stream of consciousness , which produced for me a few moments where I wondered if I accidentally slipped back a few pages and was re-reading something I'd already been through.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the following:
* Understanding and building global brands
* Seeing the world and business through an entrepreneur's eyes

However, if you dislike the following, I'd leave it alone:
* Rambling self-promotion
* Richard Branson

The World is Flat: The Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century
The World is Flat: The Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century
by Thomas L. Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far Ranging and Insightful, 2 Jan. 2009
Far reaching, eloquent and insightful, The World is Flat is a book more people should read. Looking towards the future with a good understanding of the past and the current, Friedman paints a compelling picture of how the world is becoming flatter (more connected and interconnected) which is changing the way the way we live now and surely will change even more in the not too distant future. Although the course of this change is not set in stone and many varied forces, both positive and negative, will influence the world is becoming flatter.

At a little over 600 pages, The World is Flat, covers a lot of ground. The first third of the book sets the context for Friedman's observations and discussions; including ten forces that flattened the world, which starts with the fall of the Berlin wall and progresses through to our digital online world. The "triple convergence"; simultaneous improvements of complimentary goods (the reinforcing nature of the ten flattening forces etc), improved horizontal platforms that allow people to business in new ways and the connection of previously untapped brain power from places like China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Central Asia.

The remaining two-thirds of the book cover the following topics:
* America and the Flat World
* Developing Countries and the Flat World
* You and the Flat World
* Geopolitics and the Flat World
There is also a conclusions chapter that explores the importance of imagination in this flattening world, juxtaposing examples of where imagination has been leveraged to create a better, flatter world with situations where circumstances confine people into trying to remember better times, which has created serious frustrations.

It is worth bearing in mind that, as the list of topics covered suggests, the book has an obvious American view point to it, which may not suit everyone. Also Friedman talks about the Middle East quite a lot and makes some references to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which he seems too skip over a little too quickly for me. But having said the above these are small quibbles about a big book covering big concepts, which I would highly recommend for anyone interested in how business, society, economics, politics, the environment or even the job markets may change in the future.

Net, Blogs and Rock 'n' Roll: How Digital Discovery Works and What It Means for Consumers, Creators and Culture
Net, Blogs and Rock 'n' Roll: How Digital Discovery Works and What It Means for Consumers, Creators and Culture
by David Jennings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Conjecture consigned to the long-tail, 13 Oct. 2008
Overall I was not impressed with this book, in fact I found it a bit of a chore to finish. Not that it is in any way difficult to read nor does it contain anything that could be considered complex but it really just lost my interest. Even if the Long-Tail wasn't continually referenced throughout the text it would have been obvious that this book was written after it, if not completely inspired by it. With the main difference between the Long-Tail and this book being that the former talks about some interesting broad trends and the later is very niche in its focus and light on depth.

The main gist of the book is that the web, specifically web2.0, is going to radically change the way that people find music and that this will somehow change the world (ok I made the second bit up but it's not really much of s stretch if you've read the book). However, using a number of odd, food based analogies Jennings strings together a significant amount of conjecture with only the loosest evidence presented to support it.

The basics of the argument are that there are three elements to finding new music and media, all of which are been turned on their heads by web2.0:
* trying new stuff out
* links to new content
* community (peer reviews etc)

In conclusion you may like this book if you have an absolute focus on the music and new media industry, haven't read the Long-Tail and like reading endless conjecture. However, I'd recommend the Long-Tail instead.

Brilliant Project Management: What the Best Project Managers Know, Say and Do
Brilliant Project Management: What the Best Project Managers Know, Say and Do
by Mr Stephen Barker
Edition: Paperback

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's the difference between a risk and an issue?, 10 July 2008
As the title suggests and the other reviewers have agreed, this is a great book about project management. At around 150 pages, it is quite short and although it is written in a light-hearted and engaging way it doesn't feel short on content. Real world advice is given in the areas listed below and you also get a feel for how the authors see these different pieces fitting together to support one another (i.e. running a lessons learned log alongside the risk and issues logs - facilitating early utilisation of new knowledge and removing the `chore' perception from an end of project lessons learned debrief). But if you would like really detailed information regarding any of them you may still end up buying supplemental materials, which is something that the authors admit and something I certainly intend to do:

* Project planning
* Risk and issue management
* Delivering quality
* Resource management
* Leading effective teams
* Productive meetings
* Facilitation skills
* Making use of lessons learned

Having started to study the Prince2 Manual, this book has been a welcome relief from its' very dry presentation, and at the same time a very good complement to the ideas and method set out within Prince2. As such I would certainly recommend Brilliant Project Management to anyone studying for Prince2 (which assume would also apply to MSP or other such methodologies); or for anyone new to project management; or for someone with experience under their belt but with a desire to raise the bar, be it in terms of performance, satisfaction, consistency or a combination of aforementioned.

PRINCE2 Pocketbook
PRINCE2 Pocketbook
by Office of Government Commerce
Edition: Paperback

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pocket sized guidance, 7 July 2008
This review is from: PRINCE2 Pocketbook (Paperback)
The introduction sets out this book to be an aide-memoire or a quick reference manual to practitioners of Prince2: it will also be useful for anyone who needs to talk shop with someone using the Prince2 framework and/or for anyone who wants to get a very high level view of the thought process behind Prince2.

You won't get all of the detail behind the method, which includes some usefull diagrams, due to the book's condensed format but you do get a brief oversight of the following:

The 8 Prince2 Project Management Processes
* Directing a Project
* Starting up a Project
* Initiating a Project
* Controlling a Stage
* Managing Product Delivery
* Managing Stage Boundaries
* Closing a Project
* Planning

The 8 Prince2 Processes:
* Business Case
* Organisation
* Plans
* Controls
* Management of Risk
* Quality in a Project Environment
* Configuration Management
* Change Control

Also, at the end of the book is a decent glossary of Prince2 terms, invaluable if you're working with someone who `speaks a lot of Prince'.

Final Thought - If you are going to do either the foundation or practitioner exams you will need access to a more detailed reference book than this but, once you've done the exams and you've carried around the full-sized text book, you'll certainly appreciate this slim-line version.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 11, 2008 9:01 PM GMT

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
by Michael D Watkins
Edition: Hardcover

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 5 star for senior executives, 5 July 2008
I am only giving this book three stars as it doesn't completely do what it aims to. In the introduction the author sets out his desire to create a book that will serve managers of all levels but it falls somewhat short of this. In reality the book covers a lot of useful areas but it is written as if the reader is moving into a senior management role, if not an executive one. If you do not have the remit, for example, to hire and fire at will, create new products or restructure operations then I'd suggest that only about 25% of the material covered will be directly applicable, another 50% could be interpreted and adapted and the remainder focus on areas that may be outside of your scope of influence.

Having said the above I am glad that I have bought and read this book and, if I can utilise the 75% of the material that is relevant to me, I will be coming back to it again and again as I transition from one job to the next.

The things I liked about this book are:
* It's well written, if you like reading the Harvard Business Review you will probably like the way this is written
* It covers some interesting ideas that should be applicable to most managers
* Each chapter is well structured, containing examples of traps to avoid, frameworks to apply and simple end of chapter checklists
* It's reasonably well referenced with suggestions for further reading on some of its' more integral topics

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plants, animals and farming, 28 Jun. 2008
Have you ever wondered why the world has developed the way that it has? Why some cultures and peoples seem to have prospered better than, or even at the expense of, others? If so, Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond is a book I would recommend to you. It is deeply thought provoking and well written, squeezing a history of humankind's development over the past 13,000 years into around 400 pages, which, as Diamond points out, is about 150 years per page, so not a small feat.

The basic premise of the book is that all of the worlds more advanced societies, including both those still present today and those that have disappeared into history, needed a set of complementary enablers (Ultimate Factors) to be present to allow them to develop from the original state of hunter-gatherers, from which base all people originally started. The thing that surprised me about this was just how short this list of required enablers is and as a result just how unlikely/fortunate it was that many different and varied societies did develop at all.

From the Ultimate factors, Diamond draws out a series of sequential proximate factors that lead to such historical events as European settlers not managing to settle the vast majority of the African continent or New Guinea, the decimation of the original inhabitants of North America - mostly through diseases introduced from the Old World. And, many more.

In brief, a selection of these factors include:

*The geography of any given area and the plant and animal species supported; how many of the originally wild animal species would prove suitable for domestication; How many wild plants would be worth planting - rather than say, going hunting?

*If you had enough plants and animals to domesticate, would you give up being a hunter gatherer?

*If you became a farming society would you produce enough spare food to support none-food producing crafts; politicians and artisans?

*If you did support none-food producing peoples would this eventually lead to a large dense and sedentary society etc etc

One of the many things that I really liked about this book was that it is not written from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, which is very refreshing. Further, although the book isn't, I believe, intended to be a scientific text on the matter, Diamond does provide extensive references for further reading should anyone wish to do so.

I read this book having (relatively) recently finished reading Pathfinders by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and found the two books to be very complementary. I would recommend this book and Pathfinders to anyone with an interest in history, politics or humanity in general.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2009 2:02 AM BST

Microsoft® Office Project 2007 Step By Step (Step by Step (Microsoft))
Microsoft® Office Project 2007 Step By Step (Step by Step (Microsoft))
by Carl Chatfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.69

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Useful Instruction, 27 May 2008
As the title suggests, the book is a step by step guide to Office Project 2007. It walks you through all of the different aspects of Project that a new or intermediate user could be expected to know or benefit from. It also provides a number of "tips" where a more advanced or enquiring user may want to find further information. The layout and structure of the book is very good, which could reasonably be expected, with "Chapters at a Glance", "Summaries of topics covered", "Key points" and very clear formatting to help the reader/user.

As a previous user of an older version of Project, I bought the book as both a refresher to Project and an introduction to the new 07 version. It has certainly delivered on both these counts. However, I would imagine that if I need to develop a more detailed level of knowledge about the software I would probably end up buying a supplemental book as well.

I will be using Project professionally and will need to share my project plans with other stakeholders, in light of this I found the following chapters particularly useful:
*Organising and Formatting Project Details
*Printing Project Information
*Sharing Project Information with Other Programs

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