Book reviews

Many people tell me that they're not readers or that they don't like to read books. Yet it is now impossible to go anywhere and not see almost everyone with their eyes staring at their smartphones. They are reading something! But maybe not a book. But why not a book?

They are too long. Too boring. etc. etc.

Maybe (just maybe) it was the type of books we were made to read when we were younger that put us off. I myself, did not like to read much other than a very few favourites. There are still many books I'll pick up and put down after a page or two, never to pick the same book up again. But then there are others … that are packed full of goodies … great stories, anecdotes … insights into the lives of others … great revelations … a veritable treasure trove with the power to delight, inform and encourage a person to pursue new and wonderful things.

Most of the books below are about success and how to achieve it. But I've also included a section for fiction and will add some titles in here.

Click on any book-cover image to see more details on Amazon. Enjoy!

Mindset by Carol Dweck

I put this book at the top of my list. Everyone should read this book! It's not just about success but is really about how to think in a way that will vastly improve your mental health and if followed, the advice will inevitably lead to more success in life.

This book actually caused me to redefine what I understood by intelligence, which I had always assumed previously was something fixed and not something that could be worked upon and changed.

There is real scientific research that has gone into the information behind this book. But Carol Dweck makes it highly readable with stacks of anecdotes covering stories of people like tennis player John McEnroe, General Electric CEO Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca, who went from Ford to Chrysler and many more.

The book also explains why the wrong type of praise can actually work against you, something I had never really considered before. Never tell your children how talented they are!

There is no way you can read this book without ending up believing you can achieve far more than you currently are just by adopting the right mindset. And Carol Dweck explains thoroughly what that is.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Before I read Carol Dweck's book, I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The question many people have in their minds is why are some people successful and others less so or not at all. We've all heard the phrase 'unrewarded genius' enough to know that knowledge and ability in any particular field will not guarantee success. Outliers is packed full of both anecdotes and careful analysis. From the Beatles to Bill Gates and Microsoft, communities that appear to defy medical science in their longevity and how some can start with nothing and quickly amass great wealth. There is even analysis of why plane crashes happen.

The one thing I would caution is that after reading this book, you can be left with the feeling that chance and luck play too big a role in success (although I'm sure this is not what Malcolm Gladwell intended), which Is why I would strongly recommend Carol Dweck's Mindset if you were to choose just one book. However, Outliers is a great read and easy to get into and find yourself turning the pages.

Is Your Thinking Keeping You Poor by Douglas Kruger

I originally found Douglas Kruger through his YouTube channel when I watched him deliver a 45-minute talk based on this book. I was so impressed that I subscribed to his channel and have since watched many of his motivational videos. At the beginning of 2020, I remember him talking about the importance of reading and suggesting a sort of new year's resolution to start reading. He suggested downloading the Amazon Kindle App, which I did. And then I downloaded one of his books (Poverty Proof). A lot of that book was about managing money. I enjoyed the book but didn't feel it was up to some of the comments he made in his video talk.

So I downloaded and read this book. I'm not a fast reader but still got through part 1 in an afternoon and some of the evening. Although Douglas Kruger focuses on wealth creation, he's also writing about success more generally and taking control of one's own life. Not waiting for government handouts or improbable wins on the lottery.

Some might think his rhetoric too right wing. And Kruger is unashamedly, a strong proponent of the benefits of capitalism and freedom from excessive government control. But he backs up what he says with evidence. In all his talks, he shows a genuine interest in helping the generally poorer young black population of his native South Africa escape from their cycles of poverty.

Packed full of stories, ideas and references to other writers, this is a book about changing the way you think and taking control of your own destiny. It is well worth reading.

Smartcuts by Shane Snow

This book is less about how to achieve success and possibly more about how to achieve it quicker than you might otherwise. Shane Snow also very effectively challenges some established dogmas (such as it's always good to teach kids to learn their multiplication tables).

From comedians to the Finnish education system to the Cuban revolution and how the medical staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital enlisted the help of Ferrari Formula 1 team to save lives, this is an incredibly informative and thought-provoking book.

At just 200 pages (excluding acknowledgments and notes etc.), it's quite a short book and therefore quick to read.

The Stand by Stephen King

I downloaded the sample version of this book using my Kindle App. I originally read a little under half of what was a very long book not long after it was first released in the UK back in 1979. I read the rest of it some years later. But my reason for downloading it this year was that I remembered an excellent section about the spread of a lethal virus and the authorities' impossible attempts to contain it by lockdowns and other means. I thought that section was quite early on, maybe at the end of the first chapter. It turned out to be the whole of Chapter 8, and it was still a fantastic read. Of course, by the time I had got through the first eight chapters, I was hooked. I just had to download the full book!

Stephen King is a fantastic fiction writer and his characters are very real and interesting. The Stand isn't just a story about a deadly virus and it's consequences. Rather it deals with the lives of flawed characters and the challenges and injustices they face; their friendships and other relationships and much, much more … well over 1000 pages more.