Book Reviews

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success

by Phil Jackson (2013)

Eleven Rings is part memoir and part coaching memoir, but its really a book about leadership. Regardless of what you think about the Bulls & Lakers, Phil Jackson was the leader of two of the most successful teams in sports. His management and ‘tribal’ approach to team building offer a lot of valuable lessons for anyone who leads groups of people. Jackson had to deal with massive egos, the most gifted players on the planet, and often stubborn management. His laid back approach is very different from most other basketball coaches, but great for the teams that he had. Kobe says that 90% of what he knows about leadership, he learned from watching Phil.

Its hard to put my finger on what made this book such an enjoyable read, but it is. You will learn about Phil’s life (raised by two Pentecostal ministers), his NBA career, his coaching career, and his thoughts on leadership. While the underlying principles that guide his methods are never completely clear, his methods work. Great book, and highly recommended if you lead any organization (or want to).

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success available on amazon

The 33 Strategies of War

by Robert Greene

This book is over 450 pages long but is so dense with information it seems much longer. The amount of research and information on each strategy is fascinating and staggering. Each strategy in the book includes title, subtitle explaining it, short summary of the chapter, two anecdotal stories from history or literature, an interpretation of each story and how it relates to the current strategy, the keys to warfare portion that tells the reader how to employ the strategy, a mnemonic device to help you memorize the strategy, sidebar quotes on every page to support the strategy, a final authoritative quote at the end summing up the strategy, and finally a reversal explaining how to counter the strategy. The only books I can think of to compare it to in its scope of information would be annotated classics or a study Bible.

That said, you will find things in this book and some of the suggestions made to be morally bankrupt. The author approaches this from a secular viewpoint, devoid of almost any morality or universal truth besides looking out for number one. Nonetheless, it is thought-provoking and insightful. I have already added books on Napoleon, Genghis Khan, strategy, warfare, Sherman, etc. to my list because of this book. That may be its’ greatest strength – it is a gateway book and will point you in the direction of many other good reads. It was published in 2007, but still reads as brand new. Highly recommended, especially to anyone with an interest in history, psychology, or warfare. Buy The 33 Strategies of War here or read my book summary first if you aren’t convinced.

The 33 Strategies of War available on amazon

Strategy and the Fat Smoker

by David H. Maister (2008)

Far and away the best business strategy book that I’ve read. I knew I liked this one before so I reread it this month and it is excellent. In my opinion, the first three chapters are worth the price of the book alone. These three chapters center on doing what is obvious and not easy, and the author has some real insight into the strategy problem. His overview of strategy is directed towards businesses, but can really be applied to everyone.

Some of my favorite quotes from just the first chapter:

“. . . knowing that something is good for us is not necessarily a predictor that we are going to do it.”

“We know what to do, we know why we should do it, and we know how we should do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for them.”

“The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.”

“The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.”

Highly recommended for businesses, churches, writers, and anyone else who needs to rethink strategy.

Strategy and the Fat Smoker available on amazon

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

by Josh Hanagarne (2013)

In order to write a good memoir, you have to do something that most of us are uncomfortable with – be honest with yourself. The author of this book examines his own life under a microscope, and the result is a raw, very real, and interesting life. It does not follow the perfect story arc that so many memoirs are guilty of. Josh struggles with many things, and questions remain unresolved at the end of the book . . . but that ends up being the point. Despite all of the setbacks, false hopes, and stupid mistakes, he keeps trying and moving on.

It would be hard for me to put my finger on why I thought this book was so good, but it was. If you are interested in books, weight-lifting, Tourette syndrome, Mormonism, religion, or libraries . . . I highly recommend picking up a copy. If you aren’t interested in any of those things . . . there’s probably no hope for you anyways.

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family available on amazon


by Karl Malantes (2010)

This book will change the way you think about war. It is about the Vietnam conflict, and it will give texture and emotion to what soldiers go through on the battlefield. It is very real, and will be hard for many to read. If you are easily offended, don’t pick it up (and try not to think about war while you’re at it). The author is a Yale graduate and former Rhodes scholar who went to Vietnam at the age of 23. In the space of a single book, he will help you understand the internal politics of war, the complexities of fighting, the sadness of the real conflict, and how truly young and inexperienced the soldiers are. As soon as I finished this, I picked up his non-fiction book What It Is Like To Go To War and will read it very soon. This one will stay with me a long time and will be one of the very few fiction books I own worth reading more than once.

I actually didn’t read Matterhorn, I listened to it. My friends Matt Parker and Alex Hamilton convinced me to give a try and I really like it so far. It’s like Netflix, but you get to keep every book that you download. If you like audiobooks at all, check it out. Matterhorn was their pick for Audiobook of the year in 2010 and because I was reading other books on war, decided to try it. Excellent – would be a good read as well and I’ll probably read it next time, but a great audiobook.

Matterhorn available on amazon

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

by Lawrence Wright

This is a great book about L. Ron Hubbard and the religion of Scientology. It is fascinating, surreal, and a downright scary read. In fact, based on their attacks of other people, I chose not to post a public review of this book. I don’t like the author’s attempts to equate Scientology with other religions, but he does raise some thought-provoking questions about how we can define religion. Definitely worth reading, especially if you have never read anything else on the subject before . . . stranger than fiction.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief available on amazon

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SAS Survival Handbook

by John Wiseman

I became interested in survival books after finally reading Emergency (a decent read but more of a memoir than survival book). After researching other books on survival tactics, this was the first choice on my list and I was not disappointed. A great book to keep around as a reference and just go through. Tons of information in it, including color pictures of dozens of plants. The most interesting tidbit I picked up: You will die if you only eat rabbits. It’s called rabbit starvation . . . not enough nutrients in rabbits to sustain human life.

SAS Survival Handbook available on amazon

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by Jack Schaeffer

Finally picked this up off my shelf after a friend highly recommended it, and I’m glad I did. This was not the kind of book I was expecting . . . very dark and violent but filled with symbolism and a great story. It’s a great “hero” book and one I can’t wait to read to my boys when they get older.

Shane available on amazon

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Hacking Your Education

by Dale Stephens

The more I read about it, the more sure I am that college is the wrong choice for most graduating seniors. Dale dropped out of college after a semester and wrote this book to encourage others who want to pursue alternative routes. Some great advice, and its extremely practical. This $10 book could save you, or whoever you give it to, thousands of dollars. Other books that are in the same vein that I love:

Hacking Your Education available on amazon

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On Writing

by Stephen King

Some great tips on being a writer in the real world . . . my favorite is write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Worth reading if you have any interest in writing and a must read (along with Bird by Bird) if you have writer’s block. King claims that he never plots his books out, just creates interesting situations then follows the characters where they lead.

On Writing available on amazon

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