April 30, 2008

Book Review - Human-Built World

Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture
Thomas P. Hughes
T 14.5 .H84 2004

To most people, technology revolves around computers, cellular phones, and the everyday gadgets that make their lives easier or more fun. Hughes, a scholar of the history of science, takes a longer view when defining technology. Going back to the philosopher-scientists of the 16th century, Hughes discusses the role that scientific thinking and innovations have played in Western society. He illustrates how discovery and invention have offered new possibilities for people, but at the same time had often unintended negative consequences. He simultaneously traces the way human thought about science and technology has shifted over time. This thought-provoking book examines the way people relate to their own creations.

Book Review - Lessons on Leadership

Lessons on Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders at all Levels
Jack Stahl
HD 57.7 S73 2007

Stahl shares seven "frameworks" or responsibilities that he learned during his career were critical to business and leadership success. Each framework includes strategy, communication, and relationship behaviors that contribute to its effectiveness. Stahl first examines leadership and management, where he emphasizes the need to develop and communicate strategy and to take control for its execution. Next, he envisions creating a high-capability organization, focused on developing the necessary skills to succeed. Similarly, he emphasizes developing people, including providing them with opportunities to grow as well as appropriate feedback. He devotes considerable attention to the relationship between a company and its customers, both in terms of marketing and brand positioning as well as understanding the customer's preferences to best position the company's products with these. He relates financial practices and measures of success to the overall strategy of the business. He concludes with a discussion on the importance of effective communication, particularly the ability to influence people both inside and outside the organization. While Stahl outlines seven leadership responsibilities, his explanation of these areas demonstrates that they are interconnected and overlapping.

April 25, 2008

Book Review - Ecosystem Engineers

Ecosystem Engineers: Plants to Protists
Kim Cuddington, James E. Byers, William G. Wilson, and Alan Hastings
QH 541 .E3197 2007

The concept of ecosystem engineering is one that has generated debate among biologists and ecologists. It is based on the premise that plant and animal species are not passive victims of their environmental surroundings, but may also actively affect and change their physical habitat. This book discusses the history of this theory and puts forward several definitions of "ecosystem engineering." It also offers up several theories and models that have been developed to support this idea. The scientists present numerous case studies and examples where they believe that ecosystem engineering is taking place through the behavior of one or more species. Finally, the book ends with several chapters that address potential implications of ecosystem engineering. This includes both adaptations that have been made due to human effects on habitats as well as interventions that scientists may consider to prevent further changes that are viewed as destructive. This thought-provoking study integrates the work of numerous ecologists and environmental scientists and has implications for environmental management efforts of many types.

Book Review - ROI for Nonprofits

ROI for Nonprofits: The New Key to Sustainability
Tom Rasler
HG 4028 .C4 R35 2007

This book addresses two main themes. First, it discusses how nonprofit organizations raise money. Rasler looks at this fundraising income as investment by stakeholders. He then discusses how organizations can demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) and give value back to their investment. Writing in financial language, Rasler offers several ways to calculate ROI and stresses the importance of communicating this value back to the investors. Finally, he presents numerous case studies that exemplify how to put the concept of ROI to work sustaining the organization. The parallels between nonprofit organizations and government agencies are not perfect, but the idea that government organizations should also demonstrate ROI and value to their customers and to the citizenry is one worth considering.

April 23, 2008

Book Review - The DAM Book

The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers
Text and Photography by Peter Krogh
N 440 .K76 2006

Transitioning from film-based photography equipment to digital photography can be a challenge for many photographers. In this book, Peter Krogh outlines workflows that facilitate the processing, organization, and archiving of pictures in the digital environment. His discussion centers around the use of software packages such as Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Adobe Bridge, but he also discusses the importance of cataloging photographs and adding descriptive language to them when they are being created. This book will be valuable to anyone who owns a digital camera, whether a professional photographer or hobbyist.

Book Review - Water Systems Planning in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources Planning: A New Opportunity for Service
National Research Council
TC 423 .U547 2004

River Basins and Coastal Systems Planning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
National Research Council
TC 423 .R58 2004

These two books discuss the planning processes involved in water resources projects within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Using Corps of Engineers projects, researchers from the National Research Council discuss the environmental concerns addressed in waterway projects. They discuss information authorities that are considered and show how this information is included in the project planning process. USACE planning is also examined in the context of water resources projects throughout the United States. In addition, projects in the Corps of Engineers are also discussed, showing trends that are presenting new opportunities and challenges for future projects and planning. Both books provide concise and authoritative overviews of water projects and their place in the thinking of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Book Review - Becoming an Extraordinary Manager

Becoming an Extraordinary Manager: The 5 Essentials for Success
Len Sandler
HF 5549 .S144 2008

Everyone dreams of being that manager who inspires their team, listens to and supports their subordinates, and is able to get their very best work from them. This book explains not only the theories behind effective management, but offers suggestions for action that can bring these theories to life. Sandler begins with an introduction and discussion about why there aren't more exceptional managers around. He then dives into the five behaviors that he believes are key to extraordinary management. These include motivating the team, recruiting and retaining talented people, planning and organizing the performance of the team, managing performance, and developing the individuals and the team. Each section ends with a list of action items that managers can use as a checklist as they work on changing their management behaviors. This practical book will be useful to all managers and team leaders.

April 22, 2008

Book Review - Today and Tomorrow

Today and Tomorrow
Henry Ford
HD 9710 .U54 F583 1988

This is a reprint of the Ford classic originally published in 1926. Surprisingly, Ford's ideas about how to succeed in business are just as relevant today as they were when he first wrote them. For example, he relied on high-quality, low-cost manufacturing techniques, using them to lower prices on the cars that he produced in order to dominate the market. Similarly, he organized the manufacturing process so that raw materials were turned into cars in a linear, ongoing process which we now think of as "just in time" production. These strategive have been used effectively by Toyota, who now commands an impressive share of the international automobile market. In addition, Ford thought about his business from the customer's point of view, making sure that his products were affordable by the "everyman," and being conscious that the Ford company was responsible to its community and to society as a whole. He also stressed quality in all phases of the production process and continually sought to improve not only his product but also the process through which it was manufactured. Many of these concepts are seen in business and management strategies such as TQM and Lean Six Sigma, further substantiating the claim that Ford was a revolutionary thinker for his time.

Book Review - Mastering Alliance Strategy

Mastering Alliance Strategy: A Comprehensive Guide to Design, Management and Organization
James D. Bamford, Benjamin Gomes-Casseres, and Michael S. Robinson
HD 69 .S8 B36 2003

Successful executives know that developing networks and personal contacts enables them to gather information that improves their professional decision-making. These authors argue that successful business alliances similarly help organizations to share costs and achieve greater rewards than either could working alone. This book explains that the competitive advantage of business alliances is dependent on the "deal" that is struck between the two companies as well as the strategies at work within the companies that carry it out. Organized as a guide to putting this concept to work, the authors first discuss how to design new alliances, discussing both the strategy involved in choosing partners as well as suggestions on how the formal agreement should be crafted. Next, the authors discuss managing the alliance. Here they provide ideas about how to work together, the role of leadership within the alliance, and when and how to end partnerships. Third, competitions within and between partnerships are discussed extensively, as the authors see this as one of the most threatening relationships relating to alliances. Finally, the authors address how to build the capability for additional alliances. These chapters draw heavily on case studies of companies who have used alliance strategies successfully.

April 17, 2008

Book Review - The Definitive Drucker

The Definitive Drucker
Elizabeth Haas Edersheim
HD 31 .E356 2007

This book is both a biography of Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, and a synopsis of his ideas. Edersheim has organized her thoughts thematically. She begins with an overview of Drucker's thoughts on doing business in the modern world. Next, she discusses his ideas about the relationship between businesses and their customers. She discusses important business practices--innovation, collaboration, people, and knowledge--along with Drucker's assessments about how activities in these areas contribute to the success or failure of a business. She provides Drucker's reflections on decision making. Finally, she wraps up these thoughts by characterizing the behaviors and traits held by the 21st century CEO. This book is supported by extensive footnotes and a bibliography of Drucker's writing.

Book Review - Wetland Systems to Control Urban Runoff

Wetland Systems to Control Urban Runoff
Miklas Scholz
TD 756.5 .S36 2006

This is a book about the drainage and treatment of stormwater, wastewater, and urban runoff. Initial chapters speak specifically to water quality standards and treatment. Primarily concerned with the treatment of this contaminated water, this work provides an overview, design, and specifications for performance analysis for these treatment systems. Chapters discuss filtration methods and treatment. Considerable attention is paid to the use of wetlands in these processes and the role of sludge in the purification process. This book is intended for engineers and water scientists.

April 16, 2008

Book Review - Big Switch

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google
Nicholas Carr
QA 76.9 .C66 C38 2008

This book is a combination of history, economics, and technology. Carr believes that technology, specifically computing power, is becoming a utility, following a similar path to electricity. In the nineteenth century, companies generated their own electrical power using steam engines. In the early 20th century, however, large power plants were built and companies, not to mention individuals, were able to obtain electricity inexpensively through the growing power grid. Carr sees the same trend happening in the twenty-first century as companies such as Google, Yahoo, and other smaller companies provide software and computing capability at low cost through the internet. Both of these transitions, he asserts, set of a cascade of social change beginning with the way that companies operate and continuing into shifts of control away from companies and toward individuals, the role of personal privacy, and the increase in jobs for information professionals. This is an interesting perspective on the role that the internet is and will play in our society.

Book Review - True North

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
Bill George with Peter Sims
HD 57.7 .G4582 2007

This book asserts that anyone can become an authentic leader by following their "internal compass." George lays out a self-development plan for leaders, stressing in the first part of the book that leadership is a journey and growth process. In the second part, he presents anecdotes that demonstrate how some successful leaders got to know themselves inside. Key traits, George asserts, are determining your inner values and principles, what motivates you, having a supporting team of close friends, and integrating and balancing work with life outside of work. In the third section, George focuses on skills that make leaders effective. Most important of these is empowering others. This book will be valuable to everyone who reads it because it will make them more conscious of their inner self and encourage them to lead regardless of their position on an organizational chart.

April 15, 2008

Book Review - Useless Arithemetic

Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future
Orrin H. Pilkey & Linda Pilkey-Jarvis
TD 171.8 .P55 2007

This book is about mathematical models, particularly those that are used to generate data and make predictions about environmental concerns. The authors assert that mathematical models are often based on unrealistic assumptions or flawed information, and may in fact use "fudge factors" to generate "correct" answers. Using numerous examples across the discipline of environmental science, they demonstrate how models are used to generate compelling data. At the same time, they show how this data has been used by both the scientific and policy writing community, resulting in unmanageable disposal of nuclear wastes, poisoned mines, and fear of imminent rising sea levels and shore erosion. They differentiate between data generated by models and that collected by scientists working in the field, pointing out the limits that any scientific method has in predicting the future. This is a provocative book written for a general audience, but it will probably be best appreciated by those with interests in math or environmental science.

Book Review - First Time Manager

The First Time Manager
5th ed.
Loren B. Belker and Gary S. Topchik
HF 5549.12 .B453 2005

This book provides practical guidance to new managers. Divided into six sections, it addresses management responsibilities thematically. First, it helps new managers build the people and communication skills to work with both their supervisors and subordinates. Second, it addresses main tasks that managers face including hiring, training, and disciplining their employees. Third, it focuses on building relationships with people, gaining their trust, learning what motivates them, and understanding different perspectives. Fourth, it makes recommendations on how to write job descriptions and performance appraisals. Fifth, it cautions managers not to neglect their own self-development, particularly in "soft-skill" areas such as writing, speaking, time management, and participating in meetings. Last, it puts the management responsibilities into the context of a person's life, advocating a balance between work and personal life.

Book Review - A View of the River

A View of the River
Luna B. Leopold
GB 1215 .L42 1994

This book applies geomorphology to the study of rivers. Leopold points out that people have been trying to change and control rivers through straightening, rerouting and dredging. These engineering efforts often range from difficult to maintain to clearly destructive to nature as the rivers revert to their natural path and behavior. Leopold maintains that if scientists understand how rivers are formed and how they behave, then they will be less likely to create problems by re-engineering them. She discusses how rivers are shaped and measured, how river flow is affected, how water, sediment, and drainage processes interact resulting in deposits on the banks and at the mouth of the river, as well as how rivers create and utilize energy. This geological approach will provide useful background information for environmental scientists as well as engineers who work on waterways.

April 14, 2008

Book Review - Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make
Hans Finzel
HD 57.7 .F56 1994

Finzel writes this book for leaders, particularly those in non-profit and religious organizations, who came into their positions with little or no formal leadership training. Based on the idea that most people learn by observation, he asserts that without formal training, leaders often slip into familiar patterns that they have picked up from others in leadership roles, whether these habits are good or bad. In ten chapters, he explains mistakes that leaders commonly make. These range from attitude to communication and from work styles to decision-making styles. Finzel goes beyond pointing fingers, however, to making suggestion about how to change your leadership style to create a more energetic and effective work environment, both for you and for those you lead.

Book Review - Africa Unchained

Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future
George B. N. Ayittey
HC 800 .A985 2005

Economist Ayittey investigates why many Africans, especially the poor, have been unable to prosper in the 21st century. He concludes simply that economic freedom has been denied to them--first by their European colonial powers and more recently by native autocratic leaders. After initial chapters analyze the source of African economic problems and the resulting effects on first and second generations living under democratic rule, he puts forward a model for African economic development. The plan that he puts forward builds on indigenous African economies, looking before colonial rule for definitions of property rights, free trade, and market behavior. He uses these to put forward a development model that does not depend on foreign intervention, but instead builds on Africa's unique situation. This analysis will be particularly useful to Westerners working to involve African nations in the world economy.

Book Review - Electing FDR

Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932
Donald A. Ritchie
E 805 .R58 2007

The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 ended decades of Republican presidential leadership and ushered in an era in which American citizens enjoyed considerable benefits from the Federal government. Ritchie argues that in spite of the Depression, the election of a Democrat to the nation's highest office was not a foregone conclusion. Instead, he examines the other candidates and shows how close FDR came to loosing the election. He analyzes the campaign, particularly the communication strategies and messages that were conveyed to voters. Ritchie highlights the effective uses of mass media such as newspapers and radio, and points out that his campaign messages were crafted to appeal to different voter contingencies, often requiring FDR to change his position on issues. Ritchie also traces the influences of FDR's policies into the modern era, arguing that even conservatives like Reagan and Bush felt the legacies of New Deal programs. This book can serve as a "lesson learned" for all those running for political office, cautioning them not to underestimate their opponents and encouraging them to reach out to marginalized pockets of voters for support.

April 11, 2008

Book Review - Secret Language of Leadership

The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action through Narrative
Stephen Denning
HD 57.7 .D49 2007

In this sequel to the Leader's Guide to Storytelling, Denning asserts that effective leaders use hidden patterns of communication. He introduces the concept of "narrative intelligence," which he defines as the ability to understand, act, and communicate effectively in the fast-paced world of interacting and often conflicting priorities. The book opens with an autobiographical essay in which Denning shows himself to be a change agent and proponent of knowledge sharing. Both of these roles, he argues, require superior communication skills. In the first of two main sections of his book, he outlines language and listening skills and techniques that enable leadership. In the second, he outlines key steps that are required in the communication process, from starting a conversation to keeping discussion going. Because the only constant in the world is change, this book is essential for any leader that wants to contribute positively and be effective.

Book Review - Corps Commanders of the Bulge

Corps Commanders of the Bulge: Six American Generals and Victory in the Ardennes
Harold R. Winton
D 756.5 .A7 W56 2007

Winton takes an unusual approach to an examination of the Battle of the Bulge by focusing on the leadership of the units who fought there. He focuses on the decisions and actions of six generals who commanded Corps during the battle, conveying the effectiveness of their leadership given the command climates in which they operated. In this way, Winton has written a collective biography as much as he has an analysis of the battle. He weaves this biography together with a narrative that chronicles the battle. He divides the battle into three main phases--German initiative, struggle for initiative during which the battle was in "flux," and American initiative. He does not limit his examination to the battle taking place on the ground, but also illustrates the role that air power played in the battle's outcome. As the American military is transformed into more modular fighting units, the role of Battalion and Corps-level leaders such as those examined by Winton will take on increasing importance to their operational success.

April 10, 2008

Book Review - Power, Speed, and Form

Power, Speed and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century
David P. Billington and David P. Billington Jr.
TA 23 .B48 2006

This extensively illustrated book traces some of the great technological advances of the twentieth century as well as the scientists and engineers who made these advances. The book opens with discussions of the Worlds Fairs of 1876 and 1939, in which the senior author conveys his personal wonder at observing technology and predictions about the technological future when he was a young boy. Later chapters discuss the discoveries of electricity, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, and radio. Engineering improvements are noted in chapters discussing oil refinement, suspension bridges, reinforced concrete and streamlining which used technology to overcome the effects of nature. This is a fascinating work, not only for those interested in science, but also those who are curious about the technologies that we take for granted in our everyday lives.

Book Review - Sustainable Livelihoods

Sustainable Livelihoods: Building on the Wealth of the Poor
Kristin Helmore and Naresh Singh
HD 75 .H43 2001

This book shifts the focus of development activities. Instead of focusing on the needs of the poor, Helmore and Singh instead focus on what the poor can contribute to development projects. At the center of these is the idea that people must have sustainable livelihoods in order for the general living conditions in their country to approve. It also gives the people the power to initiate development activities that help themselves and their communities rather than relying on outside organizations and initiatives over which they have no control. This book focuses on empowering people to participate in their own development. At the same time, it discusses the roles of science and technology, financial investments and governing policies for development projects.

Book Review - Firms of Endearment

Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose
Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth, and David B. Wolfe
HD 30.28 .S478 2007

The authors assert that our society is entering a period in which people are searching for higher meaning in their lives, not just accumulating "stuff." Companies who believe that, they assert, can work to gain the love of their employees and their customers, using this loyalty to generate financial success. Many of the chapters in this book are spent setting the stage. They discuss how "sustainable market share" is no longer enough to be successful, and how employees are searching for more out of their working lives than simply a paycheck. They discuss the role of customers, partners, and investors at creating products and company climates that people "love." The real secret to success, however lies with demonstrating commitment to bettering society and creating a corporate culture which respects and includes all employees. Lessons learned and tips on how to become this kind of company round out this book.

April 4, 2008

Book Review - Wizard and the Warrior

The Wizard and the Warrior: Leading with Passion and Power
Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal
HD 57.7 .B645 2006

Bolman and Deal believe that most managers go about their job by focusing on the structure of their organizations and the people in them. While this strategy works to some degree, the authors assert that it leaves managers open to being surprised, often negatively, when unexpected things happen. Instead, Bolman and Deal put forward four characteristics that they believe are found in leaders, not simply managers. The first of these, described as the "warrior" role, is the strength and willingness of the individual to fight for what they believe is right, but also to pick battles carefully so that these efforts are not wasted. Second, they describe the "wizard" role, through which an individual develops expertise in their subject field which allows them to envision the future and position themselves and their team in a way to take best advantage of it. Third, they touch on the "analyst" role, which they believe is the ability to collect, analyze, and interpret information, using it to develop a plan for the way ahead. Fourth, they discuss the "caregiver" role, which emphasizes the importance of motivating and listening to people and as well as developing good interpersonal relationships. Bolman and Deal are somewhat unique in the management literature because they do not prescribe behaviors of effective leaders. Instead, they make their mark by putting forward this quartet of traits that they believe all leaders possess, then state that great leadership is the art and skill of employing each trait or combination of traits at the appropriate time. This is an eye-opening book that encourages everyone to develop the leader within them.

Book Review - FBI & American Democracy

The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History
Athan G. Theoharis
HV 8144 .F43 T49 2004

The FBI has long had a reputation for catching gangsters, spies and most recently, terrorists. Theoharis asserts that this reputation is overrated. He suggests that the agency itself has been largely responsible for creating its positive reputation in the minds of the American people. At the same time, Theoharis asserts, it has become increasingly secretive and dependent on investigative tactics such as wiretapping and searches that push legal boundaries and threaten the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens. Theoharis also questions the mission of the FBI, which has shifted over the years. He believes that the FBI has been used by its directors and political figures to investigate and monitor the private lives of public figures and to discredit individuals whose opinions and public activities were viewed as dangerous or threatening to the political establishment. This highly critical history of the FBI uses archival sources from a variety of government agencies, many of which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the lack of a detailed bibliography may force readers to question how this author's personal opinions have influenced his assertions and conclusions.

Book Review - Ungoverned Territories

Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks
Angel Rabasa, Steven Boraz, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, Theodore W. Karasik, Jennifer D.P. Moroney, Kevin A. O'Brien, and Jon E. Peters
HV 6431 .U45 2007

Since the end of the Cold War, the number of ungoverned states or territories within politically unstable states has been increasing. On and since 9/11, we have seen firsthand how these ungoverned locations can serve as safe harbor for enemies of the United States and its allies. This study seeks to understand these ungoverned places. Based on eight case studies, this research team uncovered common characteristics of ungoverned territories. They analyze these territories to determine what factors make them appealing as safe harbors for terrorists. Finally, these places are assessed as potential security risks for the United States, particularly for the Department of Defense, and policy toward each locale is recommended. This is a fascinating and timely study worth the attention of anyone who works on terrorism or security issues.

April 2, 2008

Book Review - We are Smarter than Me

We are Smarter than Me: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business
Don Tapscott
HD 69 .S8 L53 2008

Wikinomics author Tapscott believes that word of mouth encouragement by a friend is the strongest endorsement that any product or service can have. In this book, he explains how to put the power of public opinion to work, particularly in marketing for businesses. Chapters address how to determine if customers want a new product, the desire for people to "help themselves," and the fact that customers will be more invested and supportive of businesses if they feel that those companies are listening and responding to their feedback. This book focuses primarily on how to harness the wisdom of the crowd to design more desirable products and to increase company profits. However, its larger message is one that merits consideration by companies and organizations of all types.

Book Review - Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement in Africa

Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement in Africa: Methods of Conflict Prevention
Robert I. Rotberg and Others
DT 353 .P43 2000

These authors assert that civil wars are the conflicts that are most threatening to world peace. Many African nations have struggled with internal conflicts and civil wars for years, prompting peacekeeping missions by the United Nations. However, traditional peacekeeping missions--small numbers of troops, limited force, and small budgets--seem no longer able to diffuse the conflicts or establish, much less maintain peace in Africa. This book proposes new ways of considering peacekeeping efforts in Africa. Authors propose new methods for preventing and resolving conflicts and new tactics for preserving peace. These authors analyze African political and military leaders and systems, bringing to light factors that have not been considered related to peacekeeping previously. They also propose expanded roles for the United States and other western nations to play in providing alternatives to civil war in Africa.