Random Book Reviews

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman

I received this book a couple of months ago and it finally made it to the top of my reading list. Sentinels is a bit of speculative historical fiction set in WWII. The general plot is that six doctoral classmates develop an economic theory about the impact of money on global power shifts and years later find themselves embroiled in some very applied economics were they hatch a scheme to tie up German money to hasten the end of the war. In the process, they also set themselves up as "sentinels" to ensure that such a malevolent power doesn't rise again elsewhere in the world.

This story was a mixed bag for me. Though the central thread of banking intrigue was well-crafted and unique, I found Sentinels wanting. Probably the greatest weaknesses for me were the romantic relationships, the unnatural dialogue and the lack of a sense of place in some very interesting locales. The action and pacing were good; I did read through to the end, genuinely interested to see how the story unfolded. I can't say, though, that the romances really added anything to the story, and I think the dialogue between the men and women was often awkward and just not compelling. In place of the romance, I would have liked to have seen more attention given to the setting--both time and place.

For a first novel, I would say Zuckerman has done an admirable job. While it's hard for me to find the economics (real or speculative) of the Second World War anywhere near as compelling as the human costs, the author has made this aspect of the conflict about as interesting as one could. I think that if he sticks to his areas of strength and expertise and resist the urge to try to make future novels "a little bit of everything," he will do well.

Own the Room: Business Presentations that Persuade, Engage and Get Results by Booth, Shames & Desberg

While geared toward business, Own the Room has a wealth of good information and insights for anyone having to speak in public, whether salesperson, teacher or preacher. How I wish that some of my bosses and teachers over the years had read this and taken it to heart.

Before I even get to the content, I have to say that I was impressed and intrigued by the team assembled to write this book. It's not some guy who's made a few million and now thinks he's a pro. Rather it's written by a theater director/actor, a producer/director and a clinical psychologist. These are people who know how to communicate, what works and what doesn't and why. You're not simply told to do something a certain way. Instead, you're taught how we communicate, given concrete examples from their experience then left to apply the principles in ways that you think will be comfortable and work for you.

I don't want to get too much into the nuts and bolts of the book, but I will say that I found the "Roles" section one of the most insightful. It was also the toughest for me to get my mind around and one I wanted to dismiss but couldn't. The idea of roles is that there a number of different of ways we can conduct a meeting or presentation and it is important to know how we want to come across. Expert? Mobilizer? Coach? Unless we consciously identify which is called for in a given situation, we are likely to fall into our default role, whatever that may be, and will likely not connect with our audience as well as we would like.

A couple of other areas I particularly liked, largely because they echoed my own opinions, were the discussions on the importance of narrative and the section on PowerPoint. If speakers could fully grasp at least these two sections, the world would be a much better place, at least for the hours we spend in meetings and classes each week. Highly recommmened.

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