A meandering yet mostly engaging prescription for getting ahead in business and life.

DECODING GREATNESS

HOW THE BEST IN THE WORLD REVERSE ENGINEER SUCCESS

Don’t quit your day job just yet, but do prepare to “harness the future and the past” to change the world and make yourself a superstar.

Friedman opens with a well-known moment in the history of technology: when Steve Jobs called out Bill Gates for supposedly stealing Apple’s software to build Windows. “I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox,” Gates coolly replied, “and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found that you had already stolen it.” True enough, but even as Xerox snoozed, both Jobs and Gates had reverse-engineered their inventions from the Xerox original, “systematically taking things apart to explore their inner workings and extract new insights.” Though Friedman’s definition of reverse-engineering gets more metaphorical as the narrative proceeds, his fundamental lesson holds: If you want to be a novelist, you pick apart the work of eminent models to figure out their tricks; if you want to be a musician, you try to learn to think like Paul McCartney. Whatever the pursuit, writes the author, the race is on, since if you’re alive and working, you’re “facing significantly more competition than your colleagues did a decade back.” Greatness, Friedman holds, hinges on the mind, both creative and detail-oriented, that can see what someone else has done and do it better—or do something that the other thing does not. Drawing on examples from Jeff Bezos to Judd Apatow, Malcolm Gladwell, and Vincent Van Gogh (women, regrettably, don’t often figure in Friedman’s pages), the author examines how these creative minds think and counsels readers to ask interesting questions, solicit and interpret feedback (but not too much, since “feedback is valuable, but only to a point”), develop meaningful metrics, and set goals.

A meandering yet mostly engaging prescription for getting ahead in business and life.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982135-79-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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