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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great stories and history. Some hits and misses on advice, usability. Disingenuous use of "she."
As someone who spent 20+ years in Silicon Valley, including both the dotcom boom and bust eras, I felt Ben's pain when I read this book. When the valley was flying high, it was really high. Spending was ridiculous. There was nothing "Lean" going on in start-ups. Money flowed like tap water...and went down the drain in much the same way. And then the bubble burst. Chaos...
Published 4 months ago by M. Donnelly

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149 of 186 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lonely At the Top
I knew this hybrid memoir and advice manual was different on page 20, when Horowitz writes: "We finished the third quarter of 2000 with $37 million in bookings--not the $100 million that we had forecast." These numbers are so huge, they sound fictional. His massive inter-business contracts and repeated fiscal brinksmanship resemble Jack Ryan adventures. I wondered how...
Published 4 months ago by Kevin L. Nenstiel


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149 of 186 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lonely At the Top, March 23, 2014
This review is from: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Hardcover)
I knew this hybrid memoir and advice manual was different on page 20, when Horowitz writes: "We finished the third quarter of 2000 with $37 million in bookings--not the $100 million that we had forecast." These numbers are so huge, they sound fictional. His massive inter-business contracts and repeated fiscal brinksmanship resemble Jack Ryan adventures. I wondered how they'd reach neighborhood entrepreneurs seeking $30,000 for rent and payroll.

Then I realized: this business book sounds different because it is different. Some books aim for middle managers, people with limited authority but little power, and others offer moral framework without strategic guidance. Horowitz writes for CEOs, division heads, and other top-rank executives who make powerful decisions in essential isolation. Horowitz' intended audience has probably read innumerable books about how business should work; he illustrates how business really works.

That's good and bad. CEOs, venture capital entrepreneurs, and other soaring-eagle outliers are probably an underserved market. Middle managers generally have in-house mentors and have so many books written for them, they could get bulk-buying discounts at Books-A-Million. CEOs frequently have to re-invent the wheel, because only a handful ever exist at Horowitz's level. Horowitz steps into the mentor role, dispensing hard-won advice when every decision costs millions of dollars.

But CEOs at Horowitz's level remain rare for good reason. When he describes selling his corporation to a competitor, but retaining intellectual property rights, which he leases out for $30 million annually, he clearly operates a business model that only functions among the One Percent. Could you sell anything you made, but still own it, and license it back to your buyer? Unless you're a software cartel, everybody knows your answer.

Horowitz goes, with shocking haste, from saying something reasonable and necessary, to something so frankly stupid, I wonder if he's listening to himself. For instance, he discusses the CEO's importance in creating business culture. Managers should train their own workers at all levels, he says, including CEOs, because hands-on involvement optimizes productivity and employee retention. Essentially, Horowitz wants leaders to lead, not delegate glamorless basics onto subordinates. Huzzah!

Then he concedes business models so lopsided, even this English teacher turned forklift driver wondered how he could be so tone-deaf. Horowitz entered the tech startup business after the 2000 NASDAQ collapse Roto-Rootered the tech stock sector. He clearly thinks this makes him a bold maverick. Maybe. But his company, Loudcloud, made only one product, which only international mega-corporations and governments could afford. That's a weak foundation for an IPO.

Horowitz repeatedly discusses needing enterprise capital at Defense Department levels, then admits concentrating hundred-million-dollar ventures on only one customer. When that customer takes a $30 million bath, Horowitz must scramble for replacement finance. And I repeatedly pull my beard, screaming: "Diversify, dangit! You have one product, one customer, and one revenue stream; you're a deathtrap waiting to happen!"

Seriously. If naifs like me are catcalling your business model, you're in deep sewage.

Perhaps you've noticed my praise for Horowitz's book is vague, sweeping, and global. My condemnation runs very specific and detailed. There's a reason for that. Horowitz propounds principles I find downright admirable; but when the rubber meets the road, he doesn't honor his own precepts. His doctrines are bold, jargon-free, and exciting. His actions give me the willies. I don't know how to reconcile the gap.

I tried my best to like this book. Horowitz hides little moments of surprising candor and self-awareness like Easter eggs, and I briefly suspect he understands something other business writers miss. Then he apparently fails to notice the gaps between his precepts and his actions, or says something that makes me want a shower. Sadly, I think the rich are just different.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great stories and history. Some hits and misses on advice, usability. Disingenuous use of "she.", March 24, 2014
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This review is from: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Hardcover)
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As someone who spent 20+ years in Silicon Valley, including both the dotcom boom and bust eras, I felt Ben's pain when I read this book. When the valley was flying high, it was really high. Spending was ridiculous. There was nothing "Lean" going on in start-ups. Money flowed like tap water...and went down the drain in much the same way. And then the bubble burst. Chaos and calamity was rampant.

Ben Horowitz not only weathered the storm, but he went public instead of going bankrupt. He turned a low of $0.37 a share into a $1.6B sale to HP. His stories of what he and the team went through, the excruciating decisions he had to make, and how he ended up winning (buying a company in order to keep a $20M deal with EDS)...an exceptional story.

So, the question is, how does his experience apply to those of us who are struggling with our own tech start-ups? While some of the advice was a bit preachy, what I like about Ben's advice is the brilliance of thought behind it. For instance, the Freaky Friday strategy. His Sales Engineering and Customer Service teams were at war. His flash of brilliance came from watching a movie on TV. He decided to permanently swap the responsibilities of the leads of the two organizations. What resulted was a fast understanding of the OTHER guy's issues...and a quick path to a mutually designed, collaborative solution. Brilliant.

Other pieces of advice flow to the heart of leadership. He has defined the job of the CEO and distilled it down to the essence of the job--for instance, making decisions in absence of all the data, having the courage to stand behind and in front of your decision, and being able to sell others on your decisions. Yes, there's much more to it than he flippantly states; but in essence, his success and his ballsy moves in the face of failure...I'll bite. However, is the advice really USEFUL? Can a leader in a company (or someone who aspires to be a leader in a business) really learn from lessons and advice in this book?

In this book, Ben put his thought processes on paper. Some were successful at teaching, including the process of screening and hiring a critical role--the VP of Sales. That concrete example was the most relevant--and potentially most critical--to those who are trying to glean lessons from this book. But for me, I just enjoyed the ability to delve into to the mind of a Valley vet who built something from nothing. His decision to sell LoudCloud and move to productizing Opsware was a lesson in understanding when it's time to pivot and how to get it done.

The one thing that just didn't ring true was Ben's use of the pronoun 'she' in describing a CEO's role and challenges. There was a recent article in Business Week that hit the nail on the head. In writing about a company and about experiences in the trenches where there were few--if any--women in top roles, it was a bit disingenuous to use 'she' when describing the leadership roles and practices. It just didn't ring true to me, and as a woman who has worked in male-dominated industries (including Telecom), I found that single slant to be a really weak attempt to be politically correct. I'd rather that Horowitz be real...it worked in the rest of the writing of his book.

All in all, I give THe Hard Thing About Hard Things a thumbs up. Enjoyable read, some flashes of brilliance, and some great stories. As a veteran of a start-up with a successful exit, I know how excruciating it can be. Making it out the other end in one piece (and in triumph), now that's a STORY.
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195 of 252 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Irrelevant to 99% of Entrepreneurs, March 9, 2014
Horowitz writes for startup CEOs who raise $20 or $40 million from top VCs. His own history, recounted in the book, shows just how irrelevant his own experience is to 99.9% of entrepreneurs.

This is a book for CEOs of VC-controlled startups. Its lessons are unlikely to apply to real businesses owned by--funded by--real entrepreneurs.

What makes sense for High Finance Entrepreneurship is usually suicidal for 99% of real businesses. VCs make their money by funding and promoting aggressively, and they don't care about losses. That's a luxury Main Street entrepreneurs cannot afford.

Finally, I would urge readers to be cautious of any advice given by a VC. It's typically self-serving and cannot be trusted.

I highly recommend spending time reading Michael Church's essays on VCs and VC-backed startups.
__________________________________

We're in Bubble 2.0. Guys like Horowitz become celebs so long as the bubble lasts.

In five years I cannot imagine this flimsy book being bought by anyone.

My background: I've been a VC and led two VC-backed software companies. Multiple exits, high IRRs.
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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Companion for Anyone Involved in a Start-Up or Turn-Around Venture, February 24, 2014
This review is from: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Hardcover)
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Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz has written a 21st century management manual. It's derived from his personal experiences. He refined his thinking and expression from blogging. The result is a book that can be a useful companion, in his words: "providing clues and inspiration for others who find themselves in the struggle to build something out of nothing."

There's a great divide in much of the management literature. One the one side are the theorists. On the other side are the offerings from doers, in the field.

Where Horowitz shines is in linking theory and practice. This makes his book valuable for almost anyone, at any phase of their career, in starting up or turning around an enterprise.

Horowitz wisely eschews overbroad attempts at universally applicable precepts. Instead, he offers ways of thinking about common, recurring situations: hiring, firing, buying, selling, cashing out, moving on.

My sense is that most readers will find value by turning to this book for inspiration in dealing with specific challenges. Rather than reading it straight through, readers may look to the sections, with titles such as: "When Things Fall Apart," "Take Care of the People, the Products, and the Profits--In That Order," "How to Lead Even When You Don't Know Where You Are Going," and "First Rule of Entrepreneurship: There Are No Rules."

The chapters are brief, bite-sized. They are divided into easy-to-follow sections and summaries. Many include references to popular culture. You can turn to them on the run.

Anyone in management can find value in one or more ways in this book. At the very least, it's a reminder of a reality that can be easy to overlook when facing a "hard thing" that only you can fix: you are not alone.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ABSORBING - Requires Open Mind, March 16, 2014
This review is from: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Hardcover)
I generally read all the reviews before writing my own, in part to see if anyone has already covered the ground the way I like to, with a summary evaluative review. There are only two reviews before mine that I consider world-class, please do read them if you have the time. I refer to the reviews by Mercenary Trader and Scott S. Bell, I salute both of them for providing substance useful to all.

This is not a comprehensive book in that it is a very personal perspective, brings together many specific snapshots, but never addresses "root" in relation to how the team went from great idea to source code to buzz to market share. As I read the book I thought often about a book I read in the 1980′s, still a classic, Tracey Kidder's The Soul of A New Machine.

I would say this book is an absolutly priceless gem for the "hard knocks" at the CEO level perspective, and should be combined with any of several alternatives on start-ups such as Matt Blumberg's Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, + Website, and, forthcoming, Peter Thiel of PayPal's Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

I've built two companies, both failures in that I never made the leap from one man with an obession to a movement (OSS.Net, Inc. and Earth Intelligence Network, a 501c3) and what I did not see in this book, or any other book I have found, is the roadmap for getting from a big idea to big marketshare. That book remains to be written, and it could be that it should be written by Marc Andressen and a team. Jim Clark's Netscape Time: The Making of the Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Took on Microsoft is a fine but dated (1999) start but we need something now tailored to the Internet of Things (what everyone else is thinking about) and free individual access to and ability to leverage all information in all languages all the time (what I have been thinking about since 1986 -- visit Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog to learn more). I am also reminded of Michael Lewis's The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story.

All this by way of saying that you have no business reading or buying this book if you are expecting a holistic 360 degree soup to nuts outline of how to zero to Mach 2. The greatest value of this book for me was in learning that it is possible to keep flying when you lose power and both wings fall off at the same time.

Top level value for me include the author's appreciation of the role of truth in nurturing success and dealing with failure. Being a CEO, and especially a CEO creating something rather than maintaining an existing capability, is not fun, is complicate, is 24/7, and the core point of the whole book, demands a proactive fanatic. Big business "leaders" are generally reactive interventionists rather than pro-active constructionists, and that is a point that all reviewers seem to have missed.

Which reminds me: reading this book carefully gave me ground to boycott Ernest & Young forevermore, and to revise my negastive opinion of Allen & Co, particularly Herb Allen. These two reality-based vignettes are alone worth the price of the book (and since there is no index, a flaw in my view, you have to buy and read the book, I am not going to give you the page numbers).

There are no rules. What comes across to me is that not only are there no rules for success, but all of the state and federal regulations are designed for the industrial era, are the wrong rules, and are the rocks and shoals that every innovator must finds a way to deal with. This is where I see the value in the new kind of venture capital firm that Andreesen and Horowitz have created -- an incubator that can protect a start-up from the idiocy built in to the entire system that combines 1950′s mind-sets with 1970′s technology regulations, and is largely clueless of 21st Century financial crime and financial opportunity.

Among the quotes I want to keep on the record:

QUOTE (5): "I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook."

QUOTE (11): "Netscape committed itself to make the Internet the network of the future" (against Microsoft and Oracle visions of Information Superhighway controlled by proprietary softwares).

QUOTE (49): "Figuring out the right product is the innovator's job, not the customer's job" (this in the context of client "requirements" that can run from shallow idiocy to rampant hysteria of bells and whistles)

QUOTE (52): MY FAVORITE. "No, markets weren't efficient at finding the truth; they were just very efficient at convering on a conclusion-often the wrong conclusion." Of course this ties in with our new knowledge of Wall Street as a major criminal enterprise, see Mark Lewis in the 1980′s, Liar's Poker and Matt Taibbi's more recent Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.

QUOTE (213): "Over the past ten years, technological advances have dramatically lowered the financial bar for starting a new company, but the courage for building a great company remains as high as it has ever been."

This book partially answers Lee Iacocca's question, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?. I found the book completely absorbing, logically structured, and relevant at every turn. This is not a manual for being a CEO, more like a smorgasbord, and as with most books, what you get out of it is heavily contingent on what you bring to the reading and how open your mind is.

This book could easily have been subtitled "Present at the Creation" in that it covers lessons learned -- and gives grerat credit to Marc Andreeson (his venture capital partner) among others, for beating Microsoft and Oracle in shaping the Internet. They get a 33% from me on that one. They -- and we -- are losing the second battle, allowing Google to pervert the Internet while doing great harm -- and they have not, as best I can tell, even begun to think about the substance side of the Internet. I was one of the originals in the cyber-security fight (search for 1994 Sounding the Alarm) and I have been and remain the leading original on creating the World Brain giving all individuals both sense-making tools and access to all information in all languages all the time -- and geospatially rooted to boot. We are, right now, in the Valley Forge of cyber-development, and I dare hope that the author has one more big fight left in him, because a big fight there will be, between the "Do More Evil" combination of NSA and Google (see my Reality Sandwich article, "Battle for the Soul of the Republic") and those of us pioneering the Autonomous Internet and the World Brain.

As a failure myself, I am just riveted to the point of tears in seeing and feeling how the author dealt with set-backs that would have driven lesser men to suicide. A good portion of the book deals with the differences between peacetime CEOs doing maintenance, and wartime CEOs fighting for the survival of their clan, and that is a major value in this offering. Although Page, Zuckerberg, Costolo, and Thiel all provide jacket blurbs, this book does not give the reader -- or those worthies -- the soul-shaping purpose of the future of the Internet, which is to liberate the human mind and elevate humanity. Jeremy Rifken gets much closer in his The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism but none of these guys have read E. O. Wilson's Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge or understand that sense-making for humanity, not machine intelligence for the banks, is where the glory is to be found.

The author gains huge face with me in his documentation of how important it is to focus on the people. He recognized that how you treat people who leave (understand that their departure is a failure in your own process) impacts for a lifetime on both the people who stay, and on others whom you will engage over time.

HUGE POINT: I learn that engineers in Cary, North Carolina are cheaper than engineers in Bangalore, India. This is a nationally significant point. I ran for president under the Reform Party banner but consider myself a mix of Libertarian and sane Republican. I am not happy with the lies that have been told to Congress to justify importing foreign engineers and offshoring engineering, and I am VERY unhappy with how all our dot.com billionaires have failed to take on the Rockefeller-Morgan-Carnegie mafia who persist in running two slavery systems in the USA -- rote education and misdemeanor for life prisons. What we have done to our human capital is treason, pure and simple. We need to burn down the schoolhouses and stop screwing around with MOOCS (which have a 4% completion rate) and get on with the World Brain and educating everyone in the USA -- and the five billion poor with their four trillion a year aggregage income -- "one cell call at a time."

Pages 73-80 are a brillian analysis of what firing a person should teach you about the company and its processes, and coming together with the author's articulation of how he learned that collective intelligence is superior to top-down "because I say so" arrogance. Drawing on all minds is faster, better, cheaper than trying to fake it. In this vein I recommend the books by Tom Atlee, Juanita Brown, and Jim Rough, among others.

There are a number of original idea in this book of lasting value to the business schools (which still do not teach decision-support or true cost economics, making them a continuing scam in my view). Among them are the concept of management debt -- the long term costs of making poor short-term decisions for the wrong reasons; and a lengthy examination of organizational culture and why it matters, ending with the pithy observation that perks are not culture.

Having executives at odds with one another switch jobs for a week is unconventional and effective. Love it.

Managing a venture firm that tells start-up pioneers to "embrace your weirdness" is a hoot and a joy to read. We who are pioneers are survivors -- hackers with the right stuff pushing the edge of the envelope -- struggling to do good in a system in which all of the organizational systems -- academic, civil socity, commerce, governance, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit -- have failed. They are all corrupt to the bone. Most of us do not work for money, which its benefits and its crosses to bear.

This is a compelling read. I have noticed that billionaires are now funding science, making up for the failure of the government to be both honest and effective. I dare to hope there is a billionaire out there that wants to reverse the commoditization of the human being and create an Internet of Ideas and an Internet of Minds instead of the Internet of Things that allows banks to "zero out" your money, your home, and your life. FREEDOM can be coded. SECURITY can be coded. Neither is being coded today. I pass and praise the author for his first third success. Now I challenge him to get on with the second two thirds: an Autonomous Internet, and the World Brain.

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth, & Trust
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute jewel, April 8, 2014
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This book is awesome on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. The insight and experience shared by Ben Horowitz throughout his remarkable journey as a tech entrepreneur and leader is just second to none. As soon as I finished it I bought ten copies to give to my whole team - and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone in any executive position or interested in understanding what it takes to create and lead the tech companies of tomorrow. Simply remarkable.
Thank you Mr Horowitz for sharing your experience, your struggles and victories in such an open way and for us all to learn from.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another terrible way for the trees to die, May 5, 2014
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This review is from: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Hardcover)
Maybe I expected too much from a high-profile VC with operational experience. Unfortunately, Ben's attempt to build a book from a few of his most popular blog posts failed completely.

The thing has no structure and adds precious little to what you could read online. Subtracts from it, in fact.

And the author comes off as a very unpleasant individual.

Hope this review saves a few people a few hours of their life.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 years of wartime, March 11, 2014
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Nancyhua (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
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During YCombinator, I didn’t understand why everyone was so awed by Andreesen Horowitz. People warned that ALL a16z associates were disguised as “partners,” but we should talk with the associates anyway because a16z was one of the best VC firms. Why is a16z held in such high esteem? No one articulated why, but reading this book I think part of the reason is because Horowitz was a founder in unusual circumstances. He came up with innovative solutions to tenaciously cling to life in a time when Loudcloud’s users were going bankrupt and investors oscillated from gracious to extremely (perhaps deservedly) pessimistic about the future.

Some insights in this book you can easily get from other modern startup literature, but some ideas were well illustrated and new. Here are 2 that I can easily explain:

1) In business, communication is very important, perhaps more important than building a good product. “The proper output of all the strategic work is the story.” Make sure your team understands the goals and reality.

2) Even if your product is on the verge of death, you can still make a good deal. Loudcloud’s totally switched products, and even with their new product they were failing to meet their contractual obligations to the user giving them 90% of their revenue, but they managed to keep the contract by being creative about a new deal. They failed to raise money from investors so they IPO’ed. There’s always another move. “Focus and make the best move when there are no good moves. It’s the moments where you feel most like hiding or dying that you can make the biggest difference as a CEO.”
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars started interesting then faded into management advice rehash, May 23, 2014
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Ben starts the book with insight into his own upbringing and it's engaging. But by the second or third chapter he's out of gas and resorts to rehashing every management book he's read -- including Andy Grove's -- into a mish-mash of generalizations that really don't help someone build a business.

Also, if you read Ben's blog or other info he comes across as egotistical. Maybe it's the way he writes but I find it overbearing and not helpful to really build my own business.

Further, if you've ever dealt with Andreessen Horowitz the venture capital firm it's just like many others: big hats and a few cattle. In other words, pretentious and self-important to the point of nausea.

Historically speaking, Loudcloud was a great idea that Ben gave up on too early. Yes, they sold Opsware to HP after some near-death experiences, but that doesn't mean it was the larger opportunity.

Had Loudcloud delivered on the vision it could have been along the size of Salesforce.com ... which is $30 billion market value today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't read/buy the book if you are already familiar with Ben Horowitz's blog and ideas. The book adds nothing new., April 8, 2014
Why Buy It?

Its cool to have this item on your shelf. He's a famous guy in the startup world, the book is neat and collects all his major posts (Ben's Blog).

Why Not Buy It?

IMHO, there is absolutely nothing new in terms of content relative to his blog. So there is absolutely NO reason for you to pay 10 bucks (kindle edition) to re-read his best stuff; afterall, he himself chose to publish it all for free.

The biographical part, where he could have definitely added a bunch of new stuff/perspectives to people who admire him, is very short and tells very little about the stories of the companies where Ben has worked: few events are narrated in detail.

If you are interested in what is useful about Ben`s insights on management, read the posts below - they were basically reproduced to the letter on the book - in 10 minutes:

Programming Your Culture
Old People
One on One
Demoting A Loyal Friend
A Good Place to Work
The Freaky Friday Management Technique
Management Debt
Preparing To Fire an Executive
When Employees Misinterpret Managers
Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO
Titles and Promotions

Apart from that, I found the tone a bit off, as in "people sometimes regard me as a management guru" or something. Pointless and not worth it.

PS: My grading, of two stars, reviews the BOOK, the merit of him publishing a book on top of his public, free blog. I would rate his ideas 4-star, and his hip-hop lyric-quoting 5-star.
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