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Alan L. Chase "Al Chase" RSS Feed (Boston, MA)

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Cakes and Ale
Cakes and Ale
by W. Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.73
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5.0 out of 5 stars Maugham Lampoons Both Writers and The British Aristocracy, December 6, 2014
This review is from: Cakes and Ale (Paperback)
As I continue to wend my way through the novels of Somerset Maugham, I find this particular story to be one of my favorite. It is a delicious send-up of many aspects of British society, revolving around the lives of writers both great and small. Although Maugham was assiduous in claiming hat no particular author was inferred in the portrait of Edward Driffield, it has long been supposed that there is a good deal of Thomas Hardy infused into this colorful character.

There are the usual Maugham touches in this story that I have come to expect and enjoy - the randy female who is unable to remain faithful to her husband, women described as having black eyes, and a heaping dose of sardonic humor at the expense of the English aristocracy. One of my favorite sections of this novel is Maugham's aside in which the narrator opines that the freedom to write should be carefully regulated. Only certain social classes should be allowed to write in a particular genre, with poetry reserved for those with titles. It is a brilliant conceit in which the author manages to kill two birds with one stone - lampooning both the nobility and the world of letters.

If this story were to be made into a film today, I could see a delectable role for Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs.Barton Trafford, patroness of the arts and of writers.

I find Muagham's distinctive style so engaging that I keep coming back for more. "The Painted Veil" awaits.

The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense (The McBride Trilogy Book 1)
The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense (The McBride Trilogy Book 1)
by Richard Van Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Medical Thriller From A New Writer, December 2, 2014
Richard Van Anderson has made a very successful transition from the operating suite to the literary circle in this first volume of a proposed medical thriller trilogy. "The Organ Takers" debunks the urban myth of someone waking up in a tub of ice in Las Vegas with a note on the bathroom mirror, and replaces it with the more plausible saga of a clever scheme for harvesting organs from previously screened donors. Dr. Van Anderson's writing style combines some of the best of Robin Cook, John Grisham and Harlan Coban.

David McBride was a promising young surgical resident who made a difficult ethical choice that cost him his career. Desperate to regain his status as a surgeon, he finds himself embroiled in a scheme that requires him to harvest kidneys from donors who have been swept off the streets of NYC. Unbeknownst to McBride, his former mentor, Dr. Turnbull, a sociopath of the first order, is behind this organ harvesting operation as a means to fund his research into creating artificial human organs. Having betrayed McBride once, Turnbull has the young surgeon at his mercy once again. Throw in Cassandra, McBride's surgical nurse wife, a mysterious Mr. White who is front man for Turnbull's operation, a few Russian thugs and two NYC detectives, and you have a very satisfying potboiler of a novel.

Dr. Anderson writes with surgical precision and in an engaging style. My only reason for not giving this book five stars is his deliberate insistence on creating a two-dimensional cartoon of a character in Detective Scarpelli, the "dumb cop" paired with clever Kate. Scarpelli comes across as a latter day Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue, slovenly dressed and sloppy in personal fitness, inarticulate, Neanderthal in his views of women. In the acknowledgement section at the end of the book, the author writes: "Thanks for bringing my cliched gang members and detectives to life." If he knows he is writing cliches, he should up his game and prove that he learned something at Pine Manor College where he earned an MFA. I expect more sophistication in the next two installments of the trilogy. Dr. Van Anderson, you are capable of writing with the nuanced suturing techniques that McBride learned in his plastic surgery rotation. Use that fine needle work in stitching together believable characters.

Despite my carping on this one stylistic point, I enjoyed this book and eagerly await the next two as the sage continues.

The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
by Teresa Amabile
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.85
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5.0 out of 5 stars Celebrating Small Steps Towards Progress In The Work Place, December 1, 2014
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It is always a good sign in reading a book when the early chapters prompt me to think about colleagues and friends to whom I will want to send a copy of the book. Such was the case when I began reading "The Progress Principle." Teresa Amabile and her husband, Steven Kramer, have assembled the results of in-depth research into the small wins that make the difference between effective workplace environments and those that are less than optimal.

Using sanitized journal entries by individuals who noted the interactions with team members and management in a variety of companies, the authors present a very convincing case for paying attention to the inner emotional life of workers as a key metric for predicting success of the team and the company.

In analyzing over 12,000 journal entries, Amabile and Kramer describe the challenges that a manager faces in encouraging and pointing out small and incremental steps of progress in a team setting. The evidence shows that many mangers and leaders assume that highly qualified team members do not need this kind of "coddling," when in fact every human being needs to sense that what they are doing day by day is contributing something of value, and that their contribution is both noticed and appreciated.

One very practical aspect of this book is the discussion about using checklists to ensure that a manager is tracking both catalysts and inhibitors to productivity and satisfaction among their team members. The authors cite the work of a very successful surgeon who found tremendous improvement in his rate of success when he developed and employed checklists to use in surgery:

"If you are like most of the surgeons that Gawande tried to convince to use his checklist - or even like Gawande himself - you will think the checklist is beneath you. Surely you are far too expert to need such a simplistic crutch. But it's precisely because you are an expert and therefore have so many things to think about, that taking five minutes for the checklist can be so important. We know from our own experience, and from that of many leaders we have spoken to, just how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the pressures of work and to lose track of those little successes that will eventually lead to that next breakthrough. It's even easier to ignore those little setbacks that can derail." (Pages 172-3)

These insights align perfectly with similar points that are raised in the recently published "The Organized Mind" by Dr. Daniel J. Livitin. He proposed that in an age of information overload, the more we can successfully outsource data to external tools and instruments - like checklists - the more we can make use of cognitive energy for important decision-making and creative thinking. As a pilot, I was trained early in the game to use checklists to make sure that nothing was omitted in doing a pre-flight a inspection or a run through of all of the cockpit instruments prior to taxiing for takeoff.

In collecting and commenting on these anecdotes from a variety of companies, the authors have made a significant contribution to our understanding of the small daily steps that we can take in making ourselves and our colleagues more productive and more satisfied in our work as we make progress toward the completion of significant achievements.

This book will be a good addition to the personal and professional library of anyone who strives for excellence in their work.

The Moon and Sixpence
The Moon and Sixpence
by W. Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars Painting An Unflattering Portrait of An Artist, November 25, 2014
This review is from: The Moon and Sixpence (Paperback)
In this acclaimed novel, Somerset Maugham has painted a very unflattering portrait of Paul Gauguin in the person of the fictional Charles Strickland. In "The Moon and Sixpence," the author takes the reader through an arduous journey following the impassioned odyssey of an painter in search of himself and the ultimate expression of his art. The collateral damage that Strickland/Gauguin left in his wake is almost unimaginable. He walked away from the life of a London stockbroker with a wife and two children, leaving them destitute and at the mercy of his wife's sister and brother-in-law.

Having fled London, the painter lived a life of penury and poverty in Paris while scraping together enough money to reside and paint in a grubby atelier With the exception of a Dutch ex-pat painter of dubious artistic reputation, no one who saw Strickland's paintings saw any merit in them, yet he soldiered on. He almost died of fever, but was nursed back to life by the Dutchman and his wife. His thanks for that act of kindness was to steal the Dutchman's wife and drive her to commit suicide.

His itinerary to find himself took him next to Marseilles, where he ran afoul of a tough master of the docks who threatened to kill him, so he hired himself out to a ship heading to the South Pacific and finally landed in Tahiti.

It was of course his pictures from the Tahiti period that prompted the art world to eventually pronounce him a genius. He took a common law Tahitian wife who bore him two children, one of whom died as an infant. He lived the last years of his life knowing that he was dying of leprosy, yet painted some of his best work during that period of his life.

Maugham tells an unvarnished story in a way that is fascinating. He purports to make no moral judgments on the choices that Strickland made, but at the end of the novel, I could not help but be repulsed by the type of human being that Strickland turned out to be. Does artistic genius justify inhuman behavior towards others? The novel asks the question implicitly. It is clear that despite his having found his own paradise in the South Pacific, living with Strickland/Gauguin was no Garden of Eden picnic.

by Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Gossipy Behind The Scenes Peak At The World Of The London Stage, November 25, 2014
This review is from: Theatre (Paperback)
As I get into the rhythm of reading several Somerset Maugham novels in a row, I begin to sense some of his persona leaking through the narrative of his stories. We now know that he lived as a closeted bisexual for much of his life, and that fact of biographical history sheds some light on the female characters he portrays whose libido often exceeds that of their more passive male companions. We have such a pair on display in "Theatre." Julia has become the most celebrated stage actress in London. Her husband Michael, a former mediocre actor and now her manager and theater owner, seems to be living a celibate life within their marriage after the union had produced a son who follows a well-worn path to Rugby and Cambridge. Julia, on the other hand, has a long running affair with a callow youth who steals her heart and uses his closeness to her fame as a stepping stone to meet influential society people and beautiful young actresses.

As he does in many of his novels, Maugham uses the action in which his colorful characters engage to comment upon aspects of society that he finds boring and odious. The behind the scenes gossip from the world of the London stage is intriguing and titillating, and his observations on the nature of love and of fame make this novel an entertaining read.

The Razor's Edge
The Razor's Edge
by W. Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.24
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5.0 out of 5 stars Maugham sets himself as the narrator of the tale of an unconventional life lived by Larry after returning from WWI as a wounded, November 24, 2014
This review is from: The Razor's Edge (Paperback)
I have long been aware of the works of Somerset Maugham, and knew that I needed to add him to my list of authors whose works I have read. It took the recommendation of an acquaintance to prompt me to pick up "The Razor's Edge." Mr. Maugham sets himself as the narrator of the tale of an unconventional life lived by Larry after returning from WWI as a wounded aviator whose best friend died saving Larry's life. What was then called "shell shock, and is now referred to as "PTSD," provides a backdrop for Larry's refusal to take a conventional job and to "loaf." What he lightly dismisses as "loafing" consisted of many years of arduous study - self-directed and eclectic - in London, Paris and India.

The novel has at its center the tension that arises from the inability of Larry's fiancee, Isabel, to understand Larry's failure to take a respectable job and lead a normal life in the new money society of Chicago. The author uses this conceit to offer brilliant and arch commentary on the vapid nature of society in Chicago, London, Paris and the Riviera. In sharp contrast to the empty society "Season" is Larry's deep dive into a search for philosophical and spiritual meaning to life. Having seen his friend die before him, he wants to know the true nature of life and death.

Maugham calls himself an author who sits "in the first row of the second tier of writers," yet masters of the art of writing, from Theodore Drieser to Gore Vidal, have hailed him as a source of inspiration for their own writing.

This was such a satisfying read that I immediately launched into his novel, "Theatre." Review to follow soon.

Your Brand, The Next Media Company: How a Social Business Strategy Enables Better Content, Smarter Marketing, and Deeper Customer Relationships (Que Biz-Tech)
Your Brand, The Next Media Company: How a Social Business Strategy Enables Better Content, Smarter Marketing, and Deeper Customer Relationships (Que Biz-Tech)
by Michael Brito
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from $8.24

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Step by Step Approach To Creating A Social Media Strategy for Any Business, November 20, 2014
Michael Brito's approach to explicating what a Social Business Strategy is and how to execute one for your company is straight forward and comprehensive. He offers a point by point explanation and step by step formula for executing on such a strategy of turning whatever business you may be operating into a media company that tells its own story effectively and in a dynamic and timely manner.

I was particularly gratified when I saw that a company that I know well, and use each day, GaggleAmp, was included in the list of necessary ingredients for a balanced diet of social media. GaggleAmp enhances and amplifies a company's ability to use its own employees to tell the company's story to their own individual social networks.

This book is a "must have" for the persons who are responsible for organizing the way that their company authors its narrative and presents that ever-changing narrative to the world in a way that is consistent and compelling.

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
by Laurent Dubois
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.65
90 used & new from $2.37

5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive analysis of Haiti's historical, cultural, racial, geopolitical, economic and anthropological tectonic plates., November 16, 2014
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Laurent Dubois has written a landmark book about Haiti - its past history, current dilemma and future prospects. His extensive research has allowed him to present a comprehensive picture of the historical, cultural, racial, geopolitical, economic and anthropological tectonic plates that have been grinding against each other since before Haiti declared its independence in 1804.

I lived for a year in the mountains of Haiti from 1974-5, during the reign of Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. I have studied Haitian history, language and culture, and have returned to this complex country three times since the earthquake of 2010. I learned a great deal of new information about Haiti from this book, and gained a new understanding of how actions over the years on the part of France and the United States in particular have handicapped this island nation and made it virtually impossible to forge a sustainable economy and independent governance. The section of the book that provides detailed description of the twenty years of US Marines occupation of Haiti early in the 20th Century was both enlightening and infuriating.

This book should be a Must Read for anyone planning to travel to Haiti, work in Haiti or who aspires to involve himself or herself in work that would seek to make a difference in this part of the world. This book is a case study in unintended consequences. The eradication of the indigenous population of black pigs to counteract an outbreak of swine flu, and replacing them with white pigs from the U.S. is a poignant case in point. That sad chapter in paternalism also stands as an ironic metaphor for much that has been wrong in Haiti for over two hundred years - kill the black and replace it with the white!

I am already planning on giving copies of this book to Haitian friends and non-Haitians who are working for NGOs operating in Haiti.

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny
An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny
by Alex Tresniowski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.52
404 used & new from $0.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Making The Invisible To Become Visible Again - The Story of Two Lives Forever Changed, November 12, 2014
I found this book to be profoundly moving and very relevant to the life I live. My home is in Boston and I spend quite a bit of time in New York City. Both urban areas have so many homeless panhandlers that most residents have put up a shield against them, and they are thereby rendered virtually invisible. Such was the case with successful advertising executive Laura Schroff when she walked by an 11-year-old boy who asked, "Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change? I am hungry." She walked by, but halfway across the street, something prompted her to turn around and walk back to the boy. Later in the book, Laura credits the spirit of her mother as the impetus for her change of heart. Instead of giving money to the boy, whom she would soon learn was named Maurice, she offered to buy him lunch at McDonald's. In this simple way the arcs of two lives were forever changed.

What makes this book so remarkable is the transparency with which Laura tells the story of her enduring friendship with Maurice, told with the very able assistance of Alex Tresniowski. Much to the surprise of both Laura and Alex, they shared similar family dynamics of abuse that one would never suspect looking at their outward appearance. As Laura was giving to Maurice - food, time, attention, new life experiences, a view of a healthy family - she was receiving from him just as abundantly. Their relationship began as an unlikely friendship and evolved into a kind of mother-son bond that continues strong to this day as Maurice is raising his own family.

The book is masterful in drawing the reader into the growing web of complications that surrounded the developing friendship between Maurice and Laura. Friends and family on both side were fearful of the dangers. His grandmother once advised Maurice: "Stay away from that white bitch." Laura's friends often asked if she really knew what she was doing. The path to a long and mutually enriching friendship was not a smooth or linear one, and the book is unblinking in talking about the flaws that both Laura and Maurice brought to the table.

I do much of my reading on the subway during my morning and evening commutes. I frequently found myself taking off my glasses to wipe my eyes as I worked through the narrative of this intriguing tale. This is a "Pay It Forward" story that is challenging and inspiring. I am heading to NYC in a few days, and will be bringing the book with me to offer as a gift to one of my friends - a New York executive who is among the millions who have learned to treat panhandlers as invisible. This story just may change his way of seeing the world - and seeing himself in that world.

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
by Bill George
Edition: Hardcover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Examples of Authentic Leadership In Action, November 10, 2014
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"True North" by Bill George and Peter Sims, has been sitting on my "To Be Read" shelf for awhile. I finally pulled it down and drank from the refreshing stream of wisdom and insights that flowed from the authors' minds and spirits. Having served very successfully as Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Mr. George has carved out another career as a much loved and respected professor at Harvard Business School, where I have had the privilege of interacting with him on several occasions.

The authors and their research assistants interviewed well over 100 successful leaders whose stories are profiled in "True North." The resulting work is simultaneously inspiring and humbling. Each chapter ends with an urging to take the relevant self-assessments that populate Appendix C. The book is so powerful and so helpful that I am already figuring out which of those whom I coach and mentor will most benefit from receiving a copy. The book is a step by step exposition of how truly authentic leaders got to be that way, beginning with telling their life stories.

The authors are very helpful in breaking leadership into three life phases:

Preparing for Leadership - up to age 30
Leading - 30-60
Giving Back - 60 and beyond

One of the characteristics of the Preparing for Leadership phase is "bumping up against the world. Here is how Randy Komisar, former CEO of LucasArts, describes this phenomenon:

"We begin life on a linear path where success is based on having a clear target. Life gets complicated when the targets aren't clear anymore, and you have to set your own targets. By rubbing up against the world, you get to know yourself. Either do that, or you're going to spend your life serving the interests and expectations of others." (Page 18)

The authors describe some of the bumps in the road that often confront young leaders, I was reminded of a recent conversation with a Special Forces officer who was about to lead his unit on a dangerous deployment. He was facing some leadership challenges within the unit, and was brainstorming with me about how to overcome those frustrations and detours:

"You may reach the point in your journey when your way forward is blocked or your worldview is turned upside down by events, and you have to rethink what your life and your leadership are all about. You start to question yourself: 'Am I good enough?' 'Why can't I get this team to achieve the goals I have set forth?' Or you may have a personal experience that causes you to realize that there is more to life than getting to the top." (Page 44)

A crucial stage in the development of a leader is learning to transition from "I" to "We." This transition is explained eloquently by my friend, Jaime Irick, West Point grad, Harvard Business School grad and President of GE Lighting:

"We spend our early years trying to be the best. To get into West Point or General Electric, you have to be the best. That is defined by what you can do on your own - your ability to be a phenomenal analyst or consultant or do well on a standardized test. When you become a leader, your challenge is to inspire others, develop them, and create change though them. If you want to be a leader, you've got to flip that switch and understand that it's about serving the folks on your team. This is a very simple concept, but one many people overlook. The sooner people realize it, he faster they will become leaders." (Pages 44-45)

It is clear that mentoring is an important part of every authentic leader's journey. And what may not be clear on the surface is that mentoring relationships must be a two-way street and both parties must benefit and grow the the relationship.

Through this book, Bill George has once again expanded the pool of those he is mentoring, for reading his inspiring account of the life stories of a rich variety of authentic leaders leads to growth, and places in our hands a tool that we can use and then pass on to those we in turn are mentoring.

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