Monday, April 23, 2012

That Used To Be Us - by Thomas L. Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum

In That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Thomas L. Friedman (New York Times columnist) and Michael Mandelbaum (professor and foreign policy expert) collaborate as friends and patriotic citizens on a book they intend as a wake-up and call to action for Americans.  As a nation, the authors claim that adapting to globalization, adjusting to the information revolution, coping with budget deficits, and managing energy consumption and climate change are the key hurdles requiring the type of collective response that Americans have employed in our past to achieve greatness.

Your like or dislike of this book may depend upon your political viewpoints.  Friedman and Mandelbaum take the position that both major parties have become increasingly polarized, making our political system ineffective. Instead, they endorse the "radical center" that more accurately portrays the more moderate values and viewpoints of the majority.  They argue that Democrats will have to cooperate on hard decisions to cut spending on government programs that are important and/or affect a lot of people.  Likewise, they assert that Republicans will have relent on their refusal to raise taxes.  They believe that government must invest in education, infrastructure, and research and development, as well as open our society more widely to talented immigrants and fix the regulations that govern our economy.  In the end, however, they claim that there is no magic potion for returning to greatness, no easy answers. “Americans will have to save more, consume less, study longer, and work harder than they have become accustomed to doing in recent decades.”  They point out, however, that America, in spite of its current problems, is still in the best position to spur innovation and success.  As we have in the past, they encourage us to embrace our uniquely American formula for greatness to adapt and succeed in the face of our current challenges.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Now You See Her - by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Nina Bloom has a secret past that she has kept hidden for more than 16 years.  When she comes across the case of a man about to be executed for a murder she knew he didn't commit, however, she is forced to confront the past that she has been running from.  James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge masterfully guide the reader through what happened all those years ago in Key West, Florida, when she (then Jeanine) was a college senior on spring break.  They then bring the reader back to the life she has created for herself and her daughter, as Nina, where she now must face the demons and danger from her past.

I found this suspenseful thriller to be a quick, fun, and enjoyable read.  The many unexpected twists and turns can sometimes border on the contrived and unbelievable, but the plot kept me engrossed and somewhat on the edge of my seat throughout.  If you liked previous works by Patterson and Ledwidge, you won't want to miss this one.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How To Measure Anything - by Douglas W. Hubbard

This is a book about measurement.  In it, Mr. Hubbard explains why measurement of anything that can be observed is possible.  Most equate the concept of measurement with observing and recording precise and purely objective metrics.  If we instead think of it in terms of anything that reduces uncertainty about a quantity, measurement of some type can be devised for even those things traditionally considered impossible to measure.

This is a business math book.  While not a page-turner, it is filled with techniques, cases, and examples for using measurement to inform decision-making.  To lay the groundwork, the author describes three samples of extremely ingenious measurement approaches.  First, way back in 200 BC, Eratosthenes measured the circumference of Earth to within an accuracy of 1%.  Enrico Fermi used simple confetti to help estimate the yield of the first atom bomb.  At the age of eleven, Emily Rosa devised an experiment to conclusively debunk claims of "therapeutic touch" and became the youngest author ever to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

This book is not just a collection of historical measurement anecdotes, though.  The book gets into a fair amount of statistics and builds towards Hubbard's Applied Information Economics (AIE) model which brings many of the concepts together.