LEARNING FROM UPHEAVAL

Sandy (Forging the Productivity Partnership, 1990), a retired CEO who had a front seat view of the automotive industry post–World War II, provides a thorough accounting of his role helping to shape the business of human performance improvement.

The roots of a long career counseling companies on adapting to change began with Sandy’s economically turbulent childhood. When Sandy was 4, in 1933, his father died and because his father’s wealth was wiped out in the Great Depression, the family moved from the upper echelons of society to the struggling middle class. After logging some journalistic and advertising experience (some while still in college), Sandy’s career began in earnest in 1953 at the Jam Handy Organization, an innovator in distance learning. Thrilled with the creative culture and eager to spread his wings, he opened Sandy Corporation in 1976 with the blessing of his mentor. Sandy was particularly adept at seeing a given economic reality in front of him and finding ways for both his own company and his clients to adapt. Sandy Corporation advised corporations like Chevrolet, then GM as a whole and later, companies outside the auto industry. Yet Sandy doesn’t give readers a broad understanding of how the company operates. Crammed with names, titles and particular client undertakings, Sandy’s text hews close to the specifics. When the author does step back to reflect on and outline his hard-won wisdom, it’s a welcome change. His insights are astute: “If people don’t do what you want them to do…it’s generally one of three things. They don’t know what you want…They don’t know how to do it…Or they don’t think it’s worth a big effort.” One wishes Sandy would have let the lessons rather than the facts of his career take center stage. Though chock-full of useful nuggets, the meticulous, chronological retelling of a long career can be tedious.

 

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936343218

Page Count: 320

Publisher: The Peppertree Press

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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