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Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
by Karen Dawisha
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.44
77 used & new from $15.89

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russia is a "Thugocracy", December 23, 2014
I now understand where the U.S. and E.U. targeted sanctions list against Russia came from.

This is an incredibly well documented history of how Putin hijacked a nascent civil society and turned Russia into a "Thugocracy," a country ruled like the mob.

The book reads like what would have happened if Al Capone had taken over the U.S.

Sobering and depressing reading.

Only downside was that the chapters describing the intricate links of connections between individuals and institutions cried out for some simple diagrams illustrating their relationships. The BBC web site has a few that simplifies and clarifies some of the relationships. They clearly could have benefited from a better editor.

I would hope some other policy writer connects this to the resurrection of the Soviet military and Putin's military adventures.
There's a pretty frightening conclusion that says that as long as Putin and his friends and family can fit in a bunker he really doesnt care what happens to the rest of the Russian people.

Unbelievably valuable. It ought to be on the desk of every congressman and their staffers (I've sent mine a copy.)

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (Strategyzer)
Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (Strategyzer)
by Alexander Osterwalder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.37
86 used & new from $14.95

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Business Model Canvas Gets Even Better - Value Proposition Design, November 21, 2014
Product/Market fit now has its own book. Buy it.
The Lean Startup process builds new ventures more efficiently. It has three parts: a business model canvas to frame hypotheses, customer development to get out of the building to test those hypotheses and agile engineering to build minimum viable products.
Value Proposition Design is the sequel to the million copy best seller, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers.

This new book does three things:
1. Introduces the Value Proposition Canvas
2. Tells you how to design new ventures with it
3. Teaches you how to use Customer Development to test it.

Value Proposition Design is a "must have" for anyone creating a new venture. It captures the core issues around understanding and finding customer problems and designing and validating potential solutions.

If you're familiar with the Lean Startup you know that the Business Model Canvas is the tool to frame all the hypotheses of your startup. Of all the 9 boxes of the canvas, the two most important parts of the business model are the relationship between the Value Proposition (what you're building) and the Customer Segment. These two components of the business model are so important we give them their own name, "Product/Market Fit."

The Value Proposition Canvas functions like a plug-in to the Business Model Canvas and zooms into the value proposition and customer segment to describe the interactions between customers and product more explicitly and in more detail. This keeps things simple by giving you the big picture at the business model level and the detailed picture at the "product/market fit" level.

Integration with Customer Development and Lean Startup
Several of the new tools in Value Proposition Design help with testing and validation of hypotheses. These testing tools match the first two of the four steps of Customer Development. One of my favorites in the book provides a simple overview of how to conduct customer discovery and customer validation in combination with the Business Model and Value Proposition Canvas. You start by extracting and prioritizing your hypotheses, then design your tests with Test Cards and finally, you conduct your tests and capture your learning. To make this all actionable Osterwalder added an Experiment Library to the book that equips you with ideas on how to test your assumptions.

Tracking Customer Development with the Value Proposition Canvas
With Customer Development you're constantly talking to customers and partners and conducting a ton of experiments to validate and invalidate your hypotheses. All these activities, the evidence of what works and what doesn't, and your progress towards finding a successful value proposition and business model need to be tracked. In Value Proposition Design Osterwalder shows how to do this with the Progress Board, a tool that includes a version of the investment readiness level thermometer to track progress.

Online Tools
Doing all the above is not easy even if you use poster-sized Canvases, sticky notes, and PowerPoint. There are simply too many Canvases you will design and trash (after rejecting and pivoting from your early tested ones), too many experiments you will conduct, and too much evidence you will produce. Keeping track of all this requires software support.

So the Value Proposition Design comes with a series of exercises that you can complete online with assessment tools that show you how you are using the Value Proposition Canvas. And last, but not least, you get access to a whole series of checklists, templates, and incredibly awesome posters that you can immediately use in your work.

- The Value Proposition Canvas describes the details of how the value proposition and customer segments interact
- It integrates the Customer Development process in the book
- Product/Market fit now has its own book. Buy it

The Coburn Mystery: Northern California's Unsolved Murder
The Coburn Mystery: Northern California's Unsolved Murder
by June Morrall
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from $37.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you live on the San Mateo coast of California ..., November 20, 2014
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If you live on the San Mateo coast of California this book needs to be on your shelf. A remarkable well-written history about an almost forgotten local pioneer.

Here be Dragons: The Rise of Spacex & the Journey to Mars
Here be Dragons: The Rise of Spacex & the Journey to Mars
by Stewart Money
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this book, November 20, 2014
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I really wanted to like this book.
Pros: it's a detailed chronology about SpaceX. I learned that the product the company is shipping today looks nothing like their existing plan. SpaceX pulled this off by starting with a clean sheet design, their complete vertical integration, and a masterful job of pivoting opportunistically when the market shifted in a way none of their competitors could.

1. One of the problems in writing about a complicated subject is that some authors confuse their ability to understand the subject with their ability it to communicate to others. This book suffers from that problem in spades.

2. In the first few chapters the author attempts to offer a laymans description of the SpaceX Merlin engine and tank layout (pintles, igniters, turbo pumps, bulkheads, etc.) and design tradeoffs, without ever considering if readers could understand it. (Here's a test for authors trying to communicate a technical subject: have 10 people read your text description and then have them go to a whiteboard and draw a diagram of what they read.) I doubt if anyone reading this text could do that. It's a shame as one or two rudimentary diagrams illustrating the key engine components would have solved this.

3. The book suffers from what I can politely describe as excessive verbiage. Having an editor could have made this book half, if not one third, its size. Slogging through page after page of redundant and repetitive ideas was just exhausting.

4. The book feels like a very long and extended SpaceX white paper. There are no sources, other than quotes of press releases and public statements, and no opposing viewpoints. It feels like a stream of consciousnesses explanation of SpaceX history.

5. When the subject turns to Boeing, Lockheed and Congress the book reads like an extended polemic. Even if you believe they deserve it, not having a single opposing view or insight turns this section into an embarrassing rant. At a minimum, rather the just offering the "SpaceX was screwed" story, it wouldn't have taken much to do a deeper and more useful dive into the influence of campaign contributions to the politicians sabotaging SpaceX and the revolving door between Air Force officials and Boeing and Lockheed. The book offers a sentence or two in this direction but not much more.

6. Finally, the title of the book promises "..& the Journey to Mars." Perhaps I got the one copy of the book that left this section out, but there's not a single chapter or even page about the "Journey to Mars."


Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
by Peter A. Thiel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.20
102 used & new from $10.42

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Written Like a Teenager Who's Just Discovered Sex, November 9, 2014
Lets start with the good stuff.
Thiel shares his view that incremental innovations are not sufficient - for our society, you as an entrepreneur or for investors. He decries incrementalism in startups and suggests (no, insists) that if you going to do something with your life (and his money) go for something new and undiscovered that changes the world.

It's really, really good advice.

Steve Jobs said this continually during his life and Thiel does a good job of providing some more introspection of what it means and how to achieve it.

Theil's contention that "All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition," is probably wrong, but definitely worth pondering.

And his question about identifying a unique opportunity and specific reasons for success that others don't see, is as old as venture capital but worth repeating (and he does.)

At its core the book offers insight to Thiel's and Founders Fund investment theses. Definitely worth reading to understand his view about "big ideas."

The OK stuff.
The book is really a collection of standalone essays strung together. Some of the essays are thought provoking, however quite a few of them are so mundane I'm disappointed in Thiel. It's like Einstein gave us his grocery lists along with his theory of relativity.

The bad stuff.
Thiel describes all of these ideas like a teenager who's just discovered sex in a breathless "isn't this an amazing insight" prose. (And given the number of 5-star reviews it appears that this is new news to a bunch of people.) As mentioned above a few are truly worth pondering. But calling all of them an "intellectual deep dive" does a disservice to the phrase.

Thiel trashing of lean startups and minimum viable products was simply embarrassing. He confuses having a framework for articulating hyptotheses and a method of testing them, somehow being tied to existing companies and not useful in startups searching for the big idea. Ironically he uses Facebook as one of his Great Company examples when in reality they iterated their way into becoming a social network.

The book meanders from several big ideas into the mundane - size of founding team, sales and marketing and then ends with muddled set of biographies.

In summary, Thiel will sell a lot of these books. And if it gets people thinking about doing extraordinary things rather than the mundane will all be better for it.

I only wished an editor could have suggested the same to Thiel

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $9.99

115 of 126 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Difference Between a Reporter and A Historian, November 2, 2014
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The good news: an epic sweep through computing history connecting the dots as Isaacson's sees them. Even if you're not a technical history fan than this book will serve as the definitive history of computing through the first decade of the 21st century.

The bad news: this book will serve as the definitive history of computing through the first decade of the 21st century. It is at best technically wrong, misses some of the key threads in computing history and starts with a premise (that innovation comes from collaboration) and attempts to write history to fit.

The difference between and a reporter and a historian is that one does a superficial run-through of a rolodex of contacts and the other tries to find the truth. Unfortunately Isaacson's background as reporter for Time and CNN makes this "history" feel like he was comfortable going through his Rolodex of "Silicon Valley" sources connecting interviews, and calling it history.

I'm sure Isaacson would claim, "more details get in the way of a good story," however that is exactly the difference between a throwaway story on CNN and a well written history. The same epic sweep could have embraced and acknowledged the other threads that Isaacson discarded. The gold standard for a technical history is Richard Rhodes "The Making of the Atomic Bomb."
(Other reviewers have pointed out pointed several critical missing parts of computing history. I'll add one more. While perpetuating the "Intel invented the microprocessor" story makes great business press copy it's simply wrong. Intel commercialized something they knew someone else had already done. Lee Boysel at Four Phase invented the first microprocessor. If Isaacson had done his homework he would have found out that Bob Noyce was on the Four Phase board, knew about the chip and encouraged Intel to commercialize the concept.)

Finally, one of the "facts" in this book that differentiate reporting from history is the garbled bio of Donald Davies, one of the key inventors of Packet Switching. Davies is described as "during the war he worked at Birmingham University creating alloys for nuclear weapons tubes..." I started laughing when I read that sentence. It's clear Isaacson had no idea what Davies did in WWII. He obviously found a description of Davies' war work, didn't understand it and re-edited it into something accidently amusing - and revealing. What Davies had actually done during the war is worked on the British nuclear weapons program - codenamed "TubeAlloys".

Understanding the distinction is the difference between a reporter and a historian.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2014 8:57 AM PST

Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race
Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race
by Graham Farmelo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.39
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Richard Rhodes, but a Solid Contribution to WWII Atomic Bomb History, September 22, 2014
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To anyone trying to get a full history of the development of the atomic bomb in the west, this book is a valuable addition. While the author is no Richard Rhodes, he does add historical context of why the British lost the lead in developing the first atomic bomb.

The background of Churchill's life long connection to H.G. Wells was fascinating. But even more surprising was Churchill's interest in, and understanding of nuclear research in the 1930's. However it raised the larger question of why, if Churchill truly understood the basics a decade before any other political leader, he was so slow on the uptake once the MAUD report laid out that building an atomic weapon was looking more like a massive industrial effort not a speculative research project. It was the dissemination of the MAUD report in the U.S. by a British scientist that convinced the country by the end of 1941 to fund serious nuclear research and pilot plant production.

My short take away from this book is that the British understood the theory, but didn't have the organizational skill, industrial capacity or leadership to make a big bet during wartime. (Ironically these same issues would see the British squander their lead in developing a commercial computer industry from their lead in Bletchley Park with the Colossus.) Lacking an understanding of what the ownership of a nuclear monopoly would mean, Churchill dealt away the early lead Britain had. By late 1942, when the British woke up to what was happening in the U.S. the Manhattan project had already become a U.S. Army military weapons system project and no British assistance or cooperative effort was wanted.

The book also helped me understand the role of Churchill's scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann. In most military histories Lindermann often appears as a footnote with a bit of disguised disdain, but with no real reasons given. While not quite a Lindermann biography the book helped me appreciate his outsized influence on Churchill's thinking about weapons systems.

(As an aside, somewhere, someone must have done a study comparing the weapon systems bets each side in WW II made; the Germans on V1, V2, battleships/cruisers versus aircraft carriers, U.S. bets on aircraft carriers, atomic bomb, long range bombers, Britain on fighters and medium range bombers, the Soviets betting on T-34 tanks Il-2 ground attack aircraft, multiple rocket launchers, and etc. It would be interesting to see which were the right/wrong bets.)

While I understand the authors intent of telling the arc of Churchill's life and the bomb, the post WW2 discussion seemed forced, thin and stretched the book out longer than necessary.

Finally, the book put in context the contributions and role of British scientists in the Manhattan project: William Penny, Otto Frisch,Rudolf Peierls, Geoffrey Taylor, Marcus Oliphant, Patrick Blackett, James Chadwick, Philip Moon and John Cockcroft. I had heard of these names in isolation but never quite understood their relationship to each other and their prewar research.

Just as a note, early on I almost put the book down a bit put off by the breezy writing and heavy use of English colloquial terms. (At times I had to refer to the web to translate them.) I'm glad I stuck to it. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the British contribution to WWII nuclear weapons program.

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
by Bill Breen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.24
97 used & new from $1.09

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a series of extended case studies looking for a coherent narrative, September 16, 2014
There’s some probability I read a different book than all these 5 star reviewers – but the one I read was a confused mess. It read like a series of extended case studies looking for a coherent narrative.

The author had hard time figuring out what book he was writing. Was it about the 7 Truths of Innovation in Chapter 1? Or was it about the wave of innovation the new CEO Plougmann brought to the company? Nope. Perhaps it was the Lego in danger of failing story in Chapter 3. Nope. Or the story of the new CEO building an Innovation Culture in Chapter 4? Nope. Perhaps it was about Binacle? Lego Universe? Lego Games? Your guess is as good as mine.

Was this a story about the birth and resurrection of Lego? About lessons learned? Who knows? BTW, it’s hard to believe that author missed the postmortem of Plougmann as CEO: 1) Lego had inadequate financial controls, 2) they stuffed the channel, 3) they lacked the agility to respond to changing consumer and retail channel changes, 4) they had a board of directors that failed in its fiduciary duties. Yet the breathless narrative of the new CEO coming to the rescue read like it was written by someone who was too close to the company for a dispassionate analysis.

Reading this book was like playing business school buzzword bingo. While it is possible that Lego was one of the most buzzword compliant companies of all times with Blue-Ocean Strategy, Clayton Christensen, Open Innovation, Innovation Matrix all making appearances. But given the short shrift the author spends in describing how these strategies were used in the company it’s impossible to tell.

All in all a frustrating read from someone who was there but was too close to the details to figure out how to tell the story.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
by Joseph Campbell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.40
149 used & new from $8.34

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Hypothesis, No Facts, September 7, 2014
The good news is that Campbell asserts an interesting and provocative hypothesis: all hero myths have a common storyline. The bad news is that from the examples given in this book we'll have to take his word for it. While entertaining, the myths he uses as examples simply do not prove his point. Written in the middle of the 20th century, The Hero with a Thousand Faces uses Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis to further his interpretation - something that today would inspire a few chuckles. Most readers encounter Campbell in college and believe it's a "profound" experience.

It may be, and Campbell might be right, but only English and film school majors looking for plot lines and Psychology majors still needing a shot of Freud and Jung will be convinced by the evidence as presented in this book. I finished the book astonished that it had received the praise it has. The idea of the archetype is brilliant, the supporting evidence lacks rigor.

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
by Ben Macintyre
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.82
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explains a Missing Part of Cold War History, August 18, 2014
As other reviewers have pointed out Ben Macintyre does a spectacular job of explaining the life of Kim Philby in the context of the friendships in the British upper-class system. He tells the story by tracking his relationship over two decades with Nicholas Elliott, his best friend at MI6.

But the book also sheds light on a missing part of Cold War History - why did James Jesus Anglelton, the Chief of the CIA's counterintelligence, became a paranoid and destructive influence in the U.S. intelligence community in the 1960's and 70's?

It turns out that Philby's other "best friend" was James Jesus Anglelton.

The two met in London in WWII when Angleton was running the Italy desk for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA.) Their friendship continued for two decades right up until Philby's defection in 1963. From 1949-1951 when Philby was in Washington he visited the CIA 113 times, 22 of those involved meetings with Angleton. Many of those meeting were followed by long lunches and cocktails, and given the fact Angleton didn't keep or destroyed the records, it seems likely that there were many more meetings that weren't documented.

It's impossible to imagine the shock that Angleton felt when the Soviets announced Philby was in Moscow in July 1963. But one can try - the CIA had spent 15 years in futile attempts to rollback the Soviets in Eastern Europe with clandestine operations - at some point Angleton might have realized a number of the operations had been compromised by his own conversations with Philby.

As Angleton was likely reeling from his role in the CIA's failures, five months later President Kennedy was assassinated. The CIA and FBI went into full cover-up mode and Angleton, rather than coming to grips that through Philby he himself had accidently leaked some of the CIA's most valuable secrets to the KGB, retreated to his "house of mirrors" - his obsession with Golitsyn and Nosenko .

Kim Philby impact on U.S. Intelligence continued for another 30 years. Ironically Angleton's removal in 1974 led the CIA to deemphasize counterintelligence - leading to the Soviets/Russians placing their most senior spies; Robert Hannsen in the FBI and Alrdich Ames in the CIA - in the 1980's and 90's.

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