Thought Leadership

Six of the best: non-fiction books

By Colin Walls

From time to time I write a posting about my six favorite things in a given category. Today, it is non-fiction books. I enjoy reading and it has been one of my favorite ways to spend spare time all my life. One of my big fears is being stuck somewhere – like on a plane – with nothing to read. This is unlikely nowadays, as I always have the Kindle app on my phone as a last resort. A book is like a portal into another world – I can step in and out when I want.

I enjoy reading fiction, biography and general non-fiction and try not to get stuck on one genre. The last of these is where I am focussed today …

Choosing the six best non-fiction books would be impossible, so I am just talking about six that I like. In each case, I will reproduce the “blurb” and add my own comments.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn’t matter whether you were five or fifty – every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality – about what it’s like to get old and die, how medicine has changed this and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about death have gone wrong. With his trademark mix of perceptiveness and sensitivity, Atul Gawande outlines a story that crosses the globe, as he examines his experiences as a surgeon and those of his patients and family, and learns to accept the limits of what he can do.

Never before has aging been such an important topic. The systems that we have put in place to manage our mortality are manifestly failing; but, as Gawande reveals, it doesn’t have to be this way. The ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death, but a good life – all the way to the very end.

My comments:

I started this book with a little trepidation. Another medical book – mainly about aging and death. This was not going to be a bundle of laughs. However, the surprising thing about the book is that despite, but maybe because of, the grim topic, it is a very uplifting read.

The quality of writing is superb. His words flow easily and everything he has to say is couched in stories – real stories about real patients, fiends and relatives. Reading the book was, on a certain level, quite taxing. The nature of the content meant that I really wanted to read in modest chunks, with time between them to reflect and absorb. The reality was that I often found the book quite gripping and I did not want to put it down.

By the end of the book, I felt that I had a completely new understanding of what it is to be coming to the end of one’s life; it is all about choices and priorities. My eyes were opened to aspects of life that I had previously not wanted to even think about. I am very glad that I read the book and would recommend it to anyone who might work with older people or just want to ponder how their own future might pan out.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. My inclination is to simply purchase the author’s other 3 books and plough on through them.

The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters


Full title: The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness.

The Chimp Paradox is an incredibly powerful mind management model that can help you become a happy, confident, healthier and more successful person. Prof Steve Peters explains the struggle that takes place within your mind and then shows how to apply this understanding to every area of your life so you can:
* Recognise how your mind is working
* Understand and manage your emotions and thoughts
* Manage yourself and become the person you would like to be

The Chimp Mind Management Model is based on scientific facts and principles, which have been simplified into a workable model for easy use. It will help you to develop yourself and give you the skills, for example, to remove anxiety, have confidence and choose your emotions. The book will do this by giving you an understanding of the way in which your mind works and how you can manage it. It will also help you to identify what is holding you back or preventing you from having a happier and more successful life.

Each chapter explains different aspects of how you function and highlights key facts for you to understand. There are also exercises for you to work with. By undertaking these exercises you will see immediate improvements in your daily living and, over time, you will develop emotional skills and practical habits that will help you to become the person that you want to be, and live the life that you want to live.

My comments:

In summary, I would say that this book delivered on its promises. The Chimp Mind Management Model is quite straightforward to understand and the author’s descriptions of how it relates to numerous everyday situations all make complete sense. This analogy is fine, but I felt slightly overwhelmed by all the other analogies that are introduced [e.g. planets and moons etc.], but felt that I did not necessarily need to embrace all of these to gain benefit from the book. I think that this is a book which has implanted some ideas into my brain that will stay with me. I am likely to return to it in the future.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall


All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements – but if you don’t know geography, you’ll never have the full picture.

If you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower, or why China’s power base continues to expand ever outwards, the answers are all here.

In ten chapters (covering Russia; China; the USA; Latin America; the Middle East; Africa; India and Pakistan; Europe; Japan and Korea; and the Arctic), using maps, essays and occasionally the personal experiences of the widely travelled author, Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential insight into one of the major factors that determines world history.

My comments:

This book was highly recommended by a friend, who said that it had given him a much better understanding of current politics and recent conflicts.

It was a remarkably straightforward read, considering it is potentially a very dry subject. The author has a very easy style and the text is jammed with interesting facts and details, with the odd bit of humour for good measure. I learned a great deal and felt that the book delivered exactly what it said it would.

Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo


TED talks have redefined the elements of a successful presentation and become the gold standard for public speaking around the world. TED and associated Tedx conferences are held in more than 130 countries and are being viewed at a rate of 1.5 million times a day. These are presentations that set the world on fire, and the techniques that top TED speakers use are the same ones that will make any presentation more dynamic, fire up any team, and give anyone the confidence to overcome their fear of public speaking. Communications coach and bestselling author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Carmine Gallo has broken down the top TED talks and interviewed the most popular TED presenters as well as the top researchers in the fields of psychology communications to get their cutting-edge insights and to reveal the 9 secrets of all successful TED presentations. From ‘Unleashing the Master Within’ and ‘Delivering Jaw Dropping Moments’ to ‘Sticking to the 18-minute Rule’ Gallo provides a step-by-step method that makes it possible for anyone to create, design, and deliver a TED-style presentation that is engaging, persuasive, and memorable. Ideas are the true currency of the 21st century, and Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like TED gives readers a way to create presentations around the ideas that matter most to them, presentations that will energize their audiences to spread those ideas, launch new initiatives, and reach their highest goals.

My comments:

My wife drew my attention to the book, having heard the author on the radio, so I had a listen and my interest was piqued. Then I spotted it was #1 on a best seller list for business books. I figured it might be helpful professionally.

In some ways this is a typical American business book – it has some fairly basic ideas, which are repetitively addressed in a variety of ways. Having said that, I felt that the ideas were valid and useful and the discussion and background gave them context. I believe that many presenters would learn a lot from this book. I have sat through too many long, boring presentations, so I see room for improvement.

Personally I did not learn a great deal of new stuff from this book, but a number of my ideas about how to make presentations better were reinforced and justified by the author’s research. This will give me greater confidence in implementing them myself and advising others.

Bottom line: IMHO, anyone who does presentations – even infrequently – should read this book.

Business for Punks by James Watt


Don’t waste your time on bullshit business plans. Forget sales. Ignore advice. Put everything on the line for what you believe in.
These mantras have turned BrewDog into one of the world’s fastest-growing drinks brands, famous for beers, bars and crowdfunding.
Founded by a pair of young Scots with a passion for great beer, BrewDog has catalysed the craft beer revolution, rewritten the record books and inadvertently forged a whole new approach to business.
In BUSINESS FOR PUNKS, BrewDog co-founder James Watt bottles the essence of this success. From finances (‘chase down every cent, pimp every pound’) to marketing (‘lead with the crusade, not the product’) this is an anarchic, indispensable guide to thriving on your own terms.

My comments:

I got this book because I am a fan of Brewdog’s products and I am one of the numerous investors in the company. I have no plans to start and run a business, but I am always interested in views on this topic and people who take radical new approaches are always interesting.

I read this book very quickly. It has a fast-paced style that keeps the pages turning. The author has very strong opinions and is not afraid to share them. He is very sure that his way is right and that confidence, to the point of arrogance, oozes from the book. He cites his success with Brewdog for the rightness of his ideas and advice. Who am I to say he’s wrong?

The book is full of good quotes and one-liners:
“Your brand is the collated gut instinct of the world at large towards your company and everything you do.”
“Attitude is the difference between a setback and an adventure.”
“Start a revolution, not a business.”
And from Estée Lauder:
“I love reading fashion magazines, they show me exactly what I shouldn’t be doing.”

By then end of the book, I was so caught up in his enthusiasm, that I thought that I should go out and start a business …

How to Be a Husband by Tim Dowling


The much-loved Guardian columnist asks what it takes to make a husband, and looks to his own married life to provide the answer.*
*Anything resembling advice should be taken at reader’s own risk.
You’ll never get divorced if you never get married. Not even your granny minds if you live in sin anymore. And if you’re single you can choose curtains without somebody else butting in. So why bother with marriage? It can’t just be an easy way round having to buy your own deodorant.
Guardian columnist Tim Dowling is a husband of some twenty years. His marriage is resounding proof that even the most impossible partnership can work out for the best. Some of the time.
So while this book is called ‘How To be a Husband’, it’s not really a how-to guide at all. Nor is it a compendium of petty remarks and brinkmanship – although it contains plenty of both. You may pick up a few DIY hints. You might learn that while marriage is founded on love, it endures through bloody hard work. Most likely it will make you whimper with the laughter of painful recognition.

My comments:

A fun one to finish with …

I am a regular reader of the author’s newspaper column and expected more of the same – sharp observations that make me smile. I was not disappointed. The book investigates numerous aspects of 21st Century life and how a marriage – or, in particular, a husband – fits into it. I found myself highlighting various turns of phrase that I enjoyed and learned some new, useful words [like “uxorious”]. I will continue to look out for the author’s work – both his writing and musical performances.

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