Comfort food for business enthusiasts.




A former pharmacy CEO asks 39 successful business executives to reflect on their careers and recall the defining moment of their careers.

With the exceptions of famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen and game-show host/creator Monty Hall, most of those interviewed here are little known outside business circles. The other participants in Steinbaum’s exercise are all decidedly less glamorous, but all have achieved wealth or eminence directing major enterprises, selling everything from bread to airplanes, vitamins, shoes, dolls, newspapers, commercial furniture, real estate, cars, chemicals and candy. They have run insurance companies, health programs, advertising outfits and architectural firms. All appear delighted to assess their business lives. Steinbaum offers a brief, folksy introduction to each of his interviewees and, then, permits them to speak in their own words. He divides the answers into chapters that correspond roughly to predictable passages in many business lives: the initial choice to enter a particular field, become an entrepreneur, find the right partners and abandon the wrong ones, reshape the corporate culture, change a company’s business model, reposition or renew a business and, finally, decide when to leave. Unsurprisingly, the answers are as varied as the individuals and the specific challenges they’ve confronted. For this reason, apart from an appendix, in which Steinbaum assembles some words of advice and wisdom also gleaned from his subjects, nothing here can be read strictly as a success manual. In fact, many of Steinbaum’s respondents readily acknowledge the degree to which luck, accident or emergency shaped their choices. One person’s decision to stay and transform a business is not inherently smarter than another’s call to strike out on her own. One maxim cautions a man to look before leaping, while another warns that he who hesitates is lost. Which to follow? Well, these judgments are labeled “tough calls” for a reason. Other companies represented include Monsanto, Verizon, Time Inc., Enterprise Rent-A-Car, United Airlines and Chrysler Corporation (both represented by one executive, Gerald Greenwald).

Comfort food for business enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-180249-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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