Mostly entertaining autobiography beats out the usual business textbook approach.



Virgin Group founder Branson (Screw Business As Usual, 2011, etc.) reveals the methods that have helped him build his unconventional multibillion-dollar business empire.

A prolific and outrageously successful promoter of himself and his myriad businesses, the author provides a rollicking romp through Virgin’s fun-loving, iconoclastic approach to building a business and reputation. Underneath the April Fool's jokes (one of which earned Branson a cooling-off period in a London police station) and the deftness of the humor with which the author recounts his battles against much larger and well-established opponents (e.g., British Airways, Qantas and British Telephone) lies a much more brass-knuckled story. Beginning with Virgin Records, Branson has simply given customers a product and service they wanted—in that case, beanbag cushions and coffee in a record store. The author presents both a well-calibrated sense of the relationship between risk and opportunity and a commitment to excellence in service. Branson introduces us to many of the people who influenced his business methods—e.g., Freddie Laker, who pioneered cheap, no-frills trans-Atlantic passenger flights. Branson writes that Laker helped him outmaneuver British Airways and provided “another piece of guidance that would change my approach to business forever, and with it, the way we set about taking Virgin brand down hundreds of new and diverse global alleyways.” Laker also provided the essence of Branson's public relations mantra when he told him, “get your arse out there. Be visible, take risks, get creative, make yourself heard and take the fight to them before they bring it to you.” Of course, the PR initiative wouldn’t mean much without the company's brandwide commitment to excellence in service, highlighted by the examples of such startups as Virgin Hotels. Branson takes no prisoners when discussing recruitment, training and empowerment of his employees, as well as how leadership standards are set.

Mostly entertaining autobiography beats out the usual business textbook approach.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1591847373

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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