Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

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Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein

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“Popular!
You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper ploys
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really countsTo be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start
‘Cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go”

-Popular from the musical Wicked

The word popular, one that must send shivers down most of our tailbones. It’s one of those words that take us back to our teen years when popularity was everything. And whether you were part of the “in-crowd,” a rejected outsider or somewhere in-between, the concept of popularity probably still affects you even though high school is now in the review mirror of life.

And that’s why Mitch Prinstein’s take on popularity is such an interesting and informative read with his book Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships.

According to Prinstein we are most likely familiar with two types of popular. On type of popularity is based mostly on wealth, status and fame. Back in high school the most popular kids were the athletes and the cheerleaders. Today this type of popularity is best portrayed by people like President Trump and reality stars like the Kardashians or world famous celebrities like Taylor Swift or Kanye West. This popularity is considered controversial because even though these people have their admirers, they  often quite detested and often, deservedly so.

And then there is another kind of popularity based on actual likability, wealth, status and fame notwithstanding. To me, these include people like the Pope, President and Mrs. Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and so on. Sure, these people have their share of “haters,” but for the most part, these people are admired for their contributions to society. Wealth, status and fame are a by-product.

Of course, looking back at high school a lot of the athletes and cheerleaders were completely likable. And I don’t hate the Kardashians as individuals, I’m just not fond of them as a concept…but I digress.

In the book Popular Prinstein goes to great lengths to explain how popularity affects us personally and professionally, especially in the age of social media, where far too many of us are too dependent of followers, likes, retweets and so on to assess our worthiness.

To get us past the digital high school halls of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, Prinstein offers compassionate ideas on how to be genuinely likable that will bring us true happiness and gratification and will affect society in a positive way.

Prinstein also doesn’t shy away on how not being popular in both childhood and adulthood can leave scars and how people can heal, whether they have experienced moments of neglect or rejection during those unpopular moments.

In Popular, Prinstein uses studies, interviews and other assorted methods of research to write about popularity in an audience-friendly way. He also asks readers carefully chosen questions on how on how popularity affects one’s sense of self. Popular has its academic moments, but is never dry and boring. It took me only a couple of days to read Popular and it’s still food for thought, especially when I get hung up on how many followers I have on Twitter.

I especially recommend Popular to parents and teachers.

 

Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Nico’s Warriors by Mitchell Nevin

It’s a funny thing. I’m a fan of various televised crime-related shows like “Criminal Minds” and the various Law and Order series, but I’ve never been one to read a lot of crime-related books. But when local author Mitchell Nevin reached out to me to review his book Nico’s Warriors: A Veteran’s Revenge I just knew I had to read it considering it takes place pretty much in my backyard—the city of Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs.

Nico’s Warriors is about Zak Klatter, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan now back home Wisconsin. Driving home one night after a night of revelry at a local tavern, Zak picks up a duffel bag thrown from a speeding car being chased by the cops. Inside the bag Zak finds something quite interesting and decides the contents might help him in various ways.

But Zak knows he can’t do this alone so he gathers up a rag tag bunch to help him accomplish his mission, many of them his fellow veterans. They decide to rob and fight Milwaukee’s most venomous and deadly drug gangs to some incredibly results that prove to be lethal and ambiguous.

Among Zak’s comrades include Ethan who provides the brain power, Raul, who lost his beloved niece to drug addiction and Xavier, who provides the much-needed tactical expertise. Along for the ride is the idiosyncratic Dwyer.

In the meantime, Zak opens up a tavern (with plenty of help from his father), which he calls The Fallen. The Fallen is dedicated to honoring veterans, firefighters and police officers who have died in the line of duty. Not only does it provide plenty of alcoholic beverages (this is Wisconsin after all) for its patrons, it also offers basic pub food. The Fallen also acts as a quasi-meeting place for Zak and his gang to right the wrongs brought on by Milwaukee’s most nefarious and notorious drug kingpins and drug gangs.

Among Zak’s cunning crew also includes his family, his somewhat girlfriend Mandy and other assorted friends and acquaintances.

Then there are the other characters—fellow veterans and members of the Milwaukee-area law enforcement and other assorted individuals that make up both Zak and the Milwaukee community. Needless to say, Nico’s Warriors also looks into the inner workings of the city’s drug dealing culture, one that is quite chilling but quite fascinating indeed. What I found quite enlightening is how both cultures are not conveyed fully in black and white—both are painted in shadowy shades of gray—showing the good, the bad and the downright ugly in both cultures.

Nico’s Warriors is a fun read that kept me guessing, trying to put together a puzzle of people, places and things. Just when you think things will zig, they zag. Nevin clearly knows the world of crime and law and order, which is conveyed in both the actions and the dialogue of the characters.

Needless to say, I also loved how Nico’s Warriors takes place in Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs. It names lots of familiar Milwaukee neighborhoods and its city streets, including my very own Farwell Avenue on Milwaukee’s lower east side. I had a bit of a giggle over the name of a radio host Jack Plankinton and his show “Walking the Plank” for Plankinton is an actual street in downtown Milwaukee (it crosses Wisconsin Avenue if you need to know).

Nico’s Warriors ends on a very mysterious note. Zak and his gang don’t quite finish their mission. But don’t fret my readers for a sequel is coming out shortly and this book is part of a trilogy.

Nico’s Warriors does have a few faults. I noticed several spelling and grammatical errors, but nothing that can’t be fixed with the help of more proofreading and of an experienced copy editor.

For the most part Nico’s Warriors: A Veteran’s Revenge is a pretty solid effort for a first time author, and if you’re a fan of the crime genre, you’ll probably enjoy reading this book.