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Customer Review

325 of 374 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking Gravitas, January 18, 2008
This review is from: Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Paperback)
Like many others, I have grown (very) weary of the so-called "death by PowerPoint" culture which saturates the IT sector in which I work. I would gladly substitute every minute of mindless suffering sitting through too many presentations by sales persons and various "engineers" with 150% more time at the Dentist's. Much as I hate visiting my Dentist, at least I'll be healthier afterwards.

Also like many others, I wager, I found out about Presentation Zen the book from Presentation Zen the blog of which I am a fan. I am sorry to report that I am a bigger fan of the blog than I am of the book. First, the good.

The book itself is pleasing with good binding and great color. It's easy to read with clear type and an attractive layout. Chapter heading and sub-headings are clear and the flow of the book's content is harmonious. The reader can tell that good quality work went into the typesetting and publishing--kudos to New Riders.

How about content? Well here a few shortcomings appear and although not enough to dismiss the book outright are enough to cause me wonder. At 230 odd pages, the first impression as I flipped through is how "light" it is, literally and metaphorically. There is a surprising amount of white space and while that's understandable from a design perspective, from a reader's however, it falls short of fulfilling the promise of content a similarly priced book should deliver on.

Focused reading reveals surprisingly little that is original. I stopped counting at 12 the number of books by other authors referenced and quoted from; and while that isn't a crime per se, it's certainly a shortcoming. At best, it looks like Reynolds did a great job of editing, creating a pastiche of content from other authors and the reader might as well do the same thing: amass a large enough library and perform the acquisition of knowledge himself. That, at least, comes with the advantage that reader will be getting it wholesale from the source instead of the Presentation Zen précis.

There is some practical and usable advice (start with analog brainstorming then proceed to the digital, keep the lights on, use a remote) but it's inadequately fleshed out. This information is better presented and with a heightened emphasis on practicality in other books--Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson comes to mind, one of the many cited as reference for further instruction.

A possible defense to the accusation of being light is that Reynolds' wrote the book, as the subtitle hints, as more of a philosophical treatise on presentation design. Fine, but even then, it's still light on those points as well. Reynolds is content to regurgitate some Japanese aphorisms and quotes from various personages that, while certainly inspirational, possess little value beyond that. The book ends up reading like a "pop psychology" cheer leading tome than what it means to be: a book instructing on presenting information to an audience.

Some of the subtext I noticed from reading is that Reynolds is a dye in the wool fan of Apple products with little if any regard for PC and PC software (from Windows to PowerPoint) including them as an afterthought, perhaps to sell more books. There is also a subtle but discernable thread of condescension toward American society--the number of "fat" Americans appearing in example slides started getting a little tired after a while. I don't know if this was purposeful and I doubt it, but nevertheless it's there.

The latter section of the book truly runs out of steam replete as it is with examples (with little to no analysis of them) filling page after page of slideware. It peters out with some feel-good advice from the author about creativity, etc. in what felt like padding.

In summary, Presentation Zen owes its existence (with apologies to Isaac Newton) to standing on the shoulders of giants on which it stands. Amazon has it for sale at a great price so definitely get it from here. Otherwise, there's no way I see of plunking down full price for this book at your local bookstore.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 29, 2008 4:40:04 PM PST
Thanks. I can avoid to look in it.

Posted on Feb 10, 2008 4:29:02 PM PST
While I certainly believe that each person is entitled to his or her own opinion, it is safe to say that this particular reviewer's opinion is completely out of sync with just about everyone else on the planet (witness all of the other reviews here on Amazon). As someone who has seen and coached hundreds-if not thousands-of presentations, and who has read just about every book both mentioned by this reviewer and quoted by Garr Reynolds in PresentationZen, I come away with exactly the *opposite* reaction: by comprehensively understanding the entire oeuvre of existing presentation books, and then by carefully extracting the very best points from those who came before, while adding his own, significant, aesthetic, Reynolds has created a stunning masterwork on the subject. I am convinced that PresentationZen will (and deserves to) become an instant design classic, taking its place next to works such as Edward Tufte's "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information". If you end up not purchasing this book because of this review, I believe you will be doing yourself a great disservice.

Posted on Feb 11, 2008 12:58:34 PM PST
M. Crawford says:
Of course Garr is a big fan of Apple products. He once worked for the company. He prefers Keynote over Powerpoint but that really makes no difference. There is absolutely no reason why you can't make Powerpoint slides that look the same as Garr's Keynote ones. In fact that really is one of the points of the book. Making a good presentation is about the presentation and not the tools used to make it. There was never an intention to make another "Powerpoint in 10 mins" type of book. There are enough of them already.

Garr does quote extensively from other books because those books are classics in their field. Why rearrange others words and pretend that they are your own, when you can quote and acknowledge the original? I own several of the books that Garr quotes from and each of them are really worth owning in their own right. What Garr does with Presentation Zen is to tie everything together to make a single and unique resource.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2008 3:00:24 PM PST
Fred says:
First, thank you for allowing that I am entitled to my opinion however abberant you think it is, which abborence, I take from your comment is based either on a popularity contest or belonging to a herd of yes men.
At one time, Copernicus was pilloried for espousing heliocentrism, so if being unpopular puts me in such a class, then I fully embrace my exile from the halls of good taste.
I have no idea what kind of presenter Garry Reynolds is, all I know about him is his blog and his book. I like his blog, his book is lacking--I've detailed why in my review. To call his book a "masterwork" is either hidebound and therefore calls into question the quality of whatever it is you've been doing in your "hundreds" and "thousands" of presentations or something else is very wrong.
Whatever it is, be aware that I'm NOT advocating no one buy the book. If you had read closer (something I would expect from someone who boasts that much readership) you'll see that I said it wasn't worth the full price and to get it from Amazon for the discount.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2008 3:03:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2008 3:09:41 PM PST
Fred says:
Crawford: H'm, apparently you haven't really read my review properly because most of your points aren't germane. My argument is indeed that Presentation Zen is not a consumate resource of anything but an imprecise summarization of better works.

Believe me (and I'm sure Reynolds is happy about this fact), this book's sales will not suffer from one tiny three-star review.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2008 8:00:37 PM PDT
L. Helw says:
re Mr. Woodbridge; your personal opinion about a book doesn't put you in the class of Copernicus as you suggest. Your personal opinion puts you in the class of Fred. That's all. The book is a good one. Not for Fred, however. Don't buy it Fred. Others will decide for themselves. Referencing others' original work as the author did in this volume is giving credit where credit is due and allows the readers the overview, and for those who are new to the concepts, references to look up. For others of us, it was a clean and uncluttered read that held solid content.

Posted on May 18, 2008 12:52:14 PM PDT
C. Nekritz says:
Funny you mention sheep when it's clear you're annoyed by Apple references and are clearly a Windows user.

As a creative director I find it intriguing you don't seem to understand the concept of white space, which, I guess if you're buying into cramming 20 pounds of text into a 10 pound page is a good thing for a book with the title Zen. You're clearly not getting a lot of things, more than which is indicated by your pandering ignorance, disingenuous writing tact, and self-sanctimonious tone.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 16, 2008 7:53:17 AM PDT
i think he was wanting an encyclopedia, not easy reading

Posted on Oct 11, 2008 7:41:41 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 11, 2008 7:42:55 AM PDT
Gary Knowles says:
Thanks for your thoughtful review. I think your advice is sound so I'll likely buy the book at a good
price from Amazon and read it keeping in mind your analysis as well as some of the "true believers" comments. I don't have the time to read all those sources to which you refer, so this might be a good starting point.


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2008 8:20:45 PM PDT
Fred says:
I'm actually a Linux user, Nekritz. I really like MacOS (now that it's actually Unix) and I do use Windows.

Name calling will get you everywhere ...
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