Book Review: TED Talks – The Official Ted Guide to Public Speaking

I do a lot of speaking at conferences, user groups, online, and other sorts of events. It's important to constantly improve, so I take notice of any books released on the topic. I recently listened (via Audible) to TED Talks – The Official Ted Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson.

I've been a fan of TED and their conference talks for a long time. The overall quality of the talks is very high, and some (like Ken Robinson's talk on schools killing creativity) set a really high bar.

TEDx talks are the extension talks. They are local events and the quality isn't quite at the same level, but still often very, very good.

So I was fascinated to see this book was by Chris Anderson. Chris is basically the guy who runs TED nowadays. He took it over from the original founder many years back, and has seen it go to great heights. I was keen to hear Chris' thoughts. If anyone has listened to a lot of presentations, it's Chris.

A real bonus was that he narrated the audio book that I listened to.

The book was a little slow getting started, almost to the point where I was going to give up, but I'm so glad I persisted. It's a truly wonderful book. If you don't gain insights from Chris' thoughts, you aren't trying.

I was also quite fascinated in some of the background info about TED, and how involved Chris and the team are with each presentation. They really help to improve the final product that you see. Not surprisingly too, there are sessions that just don't make it out the door.

The Financial Times review of the book said "Excellent; easily the best public speaking guide I have read".

Chris describes his five key techniques: Connection, Narration, Explanation, Persuasion and Revelation. He then goes on with additional ones to avoid. The book is really well constructed, and Chris is the ideal person to have written it.

Bottom line?

I really enjoyed this book. If you don't find the start of it all that compelling, I'd encourage you to keep at it. It's worth it. If you have any interest at all in public speaking, this is a wonderful book.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: The Future of Capitalism by Paul Collier

I've mentioned before that Orin Thomas tends to give me many good book recommendations. The Future of Capitalism by Paul Collier is another of Orin's recommendations. I notice from the cover that it's also highly recommended by Bill Gates. So it had to be worth a look.

I ended up listening to this via an Audible audio book. It's quite a long book at around 9 hours 26 minutes.

Overall, I loved this book. I'd have to say though, that it took me quite a while to get into it. I just didn't find the first chapters all that compelling. But strangely, I then really did get into it.

The future of work and how it will affect society is a real passion for me. I'm both anxious and excited about what's coming. I just wish I was 40 years younger, to be in a better position to see this all play out. Collier, though, targets capitalism itself directly.

There are so many aspects of how the world currently does (or often does not) work that deeply concern me. Our current form of capitalism is of benefit to an ever-decreasing percentage of people. I remember reading elsewhere about how most of the people in the USA see themselves as "middle class" yet most of them are far from it.

Collier sees much of the current system to be inherently broken, and I agree.

What is different about this book is the way that Collier offers direct, and quite practical, pragmatic suggestions for how to solve many of the current problems.

Bottom line?

I really enjoyed this book. If you don't find the start of it all that compelling, I'd encourage you to keep at it. It's worth it.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: Power BI MVP Book

Over the last few months, one of my Kiwi buddies (and fellow member of both the MVP and Microsoft Regional Director programs) Reza Rad has been organizing a bunch of us to write a book that's a collection of ideas from a number of MVPs. It's the Power BI MVP Book.

There are a whole lot of authors from a whole lot of different countries: Reza Rad, Anil Maharjan, Indira Bandari, Liam Bastick, Ken Puls, Jesus Gil, Thomas LeBlanc, Ike Ellis, Matt Allington, Leila Etaati, Markus Ehrenmüller, Ashraf Ghonaim, Eduardo Castro, Manohar Punna, Treb Gatte, Gilbert Quevauvilliers, Michael Johnson, Shree Khanal, Asgeir Gunnarsson, Greg Low, Gogula Aryalingam.

I've done these types of books before with the SQL Server MVP Deep Dives pair of books. They are a different book in that you're not getting a single story throughout the book. Instead, you're getting a whole set of independent chapters on a variety of topics related to Power BI.

The general idea of these books is to support a charity, and that's where anything that I would have earned from them is going.

Bottom line?

I hope you find this book useful. There is both a paperback and a Kindle edition. The Kindle eBook is far cheaper.

Greg's rating: you decide

Book Review: Blood Rush by Bob Simms

I've got a number of friends who've been writing books over the last few years. Sadly, there seems to be no relationship between when I buy a book and when I actually read it.

And that's the case with Blood Rush by Bob Simms.

Bob is an old SQL Server trainer friend/colleague and I bought this book back when Bob first mentioned that he'd written it. I only got to actually read it last week.

I've always loved Bob's sense of humor (it's not common), and it shows through in this book.

The story starts out with a body in Brixton. All the blood is gone, and there are puncture wounds to its neck.

The tale weaves it way through potential vampire killings, criminal gangs, and even a ten year old girl.

Blood Rush is the third in a series of books by Bob, and I suspect that I'll try to go back and read the earlier ones now.

Curiously there is one older character that I'm left wondering about. Is he meant to be a bit autobiographical.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed this book. It doesn't take too long to read, and it's quite a journey. I'll be keen to see how Bob continues to evolve as a writer. (In recent years, he's somewhat retired from the UK to Europe). I hope he keeps writing though.

Greg's rating: 7 out of 10

Book Review: The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks

One of the depressing things about watching TV is that producers (and in particular Hollywood-based producers) seem to have a very skewed concept of what happiness comes from.

Here's a bit hint: it's not from wealth or fame.

I've made enough trips around the Sun to know that anyone who believes what that TV is telling them, is being conned, big time.

Now I'm not saying that being poor is fun either. It's not. In particular, anyone who's deeply in debt would understand that they have very little control of their own lives.

I've known quite a lot of seriously wealthy people, and I can tell you that so often, they are some of the saddest, messed up people that I've ever met. If you've ever looked into a family many years after a big lottery win, things aren't special like the lottery ads would have you believe.

Things aren't helped by politicians who seem to assume that endless growth in GDP for a nation is the best indicator of doing well. It's not. In his book The Happiness Manifesto, Nic Marks wishes we had a measure of happiness of the people of a country, rather than a measure of GDP. In the big scheme of things, it would be far more useful if the policies being pursued by governments were about enhancing the quality of lives, and overall happiness of the citizens.

So it's interesting to get into the real roots of happiness.

I have not the slightest doubt that happiness in life comes more from accumulating experiences and friendships than it does from accumulating wealth and power.

Marks founded the Centre for Well-Being in London, as an independent think tank. He's spent a lot of time looking into happiness and what leads to it, and in this book, he suggests a lot of approaches that could be taken to have governments head in a much better direction, and how these approaches might be applied to a variety of disciplines. He'd rather see us measuring an HPI (happy planet index) rather than GDP (gross domestic product).

Bottom line?

I really enjoyed this book. I particularly liked the way that Marks didn't just tell us vague concepts, but drilled into how they could be applied in practice.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: You are not so smart by David McRaney

About a year ago, I attended a conference called DevOps Days in Newcastle, Australia. I wish I'd liked the conference more. But one of the memorable things from the conference was a keynote by David McRaney.

All the people around me seemed to find David's keynote interesting. Ironically though, I also heard many of them wondering what on earth it had to do with the conference topics. David provided example after example of how we all suffer from confirmation bias. I enjoyed his keynote.

So when I saw he had a book entitled You are not so smart (and subtitled Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself), I was intrigued to read it.

Like I was with the conference, I ended up with mixed feelings about this book. I saw a comment that said it was "a populist introduction to psychological delusions such as cognitive bias", and I think that's pretty accurate.

A big problem for me is that I listened to it as an audio book, and I wish they'd used a different narrator. In fact, I wish David had narrated the book himself. He has a wonderful sarcastic sense of humor, and that didn't come across with the narrator reading the book.

The book provides example after example of how we delude ourselves, and very importantly, how our memories are so very poor, no matter how much we trust them.

I really was hoping for more in-depth discussions on findings, etc. but I suppose the book is targeted at the community at large.

Mind you, after going through the book, it's quite clear how mass ignorance continues to be such an ongoing problem. In one reader's comments, I read that David Sirota (the author of Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now) had said that "Anybody still self-aware enough to wonder why society now worships wilful stupidity should read this book". That's probably a fair call.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed some of the stories in this book, but not all. It does offer a good introduction to cognitive biases, particularly confirmation bias in an easy to consume format.

Greg's rating: 5 out of 10

Book Review: The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion

I've mentioned previously that I've come across Graeme Simsion previously in his role as a well-known data modeller, based in Melbourne here in Australia. I've recorded a podcast with him many years ago, on my SDU Podcast series. So perhaps I have a slight bias towards him as an author.

I was so excited to see the endless well-deserved congratulations he's received for his initial Rosie Project book. I thoroughly enjoyed that book.

I also enjoyed The Rosie Effect but not quite as much. Sequels are tough to write, I'm sure. I've had a few people tell me that they loved the first one, but didn't really like the second one.

So I didn't know how I'd react to the third in the series about Don Tillman: The Rosie Result.

I shouldn't have worried. It's still not quite at the level of the first book but I enjoyed it more than the second book. At this point, following the travels and travails of Don Tillman feels like looking back in on an old friend, to see how he's going. I've always loved how Graeme has made Don both quirky and detached, yet also so very human.

In this third book in the series, his son Hudson is at school and dealing with lots of issues, and his parents are wondering about getting him an autism assessment. As the book starts, Don is in trouble at work, and Rosie seems to be battling her job too.

I loved the continuing sideline story about the cocktail bar.

And so many of the discussions about areas in Melbourne are really familiar to me.

I heard a rumour that movie rights might be on the cards. I hope so.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed this third book in the series. It continues Don's story seamlessly, and I'm looking forward to his next adventures. (I presume there will be another). Nicely done Graeme !

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: The Secret Garden (Mandarin Companion)

I've mentioned lately that I've read a few Mandarin Companion books. I've just finished another one of these graded readers written in simplified Chinese. It was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Author), Renjun Yang (Editor), Cui Yu (Editor), John Pasden (Editor), Jared Turner (Introduction).

It's an adaptation of a classic tale. In this version, a young girl who isn't happy with her life (her parents don't seem to care for her), gets up one day to find they and their friends who had been visiting are all dead from a mystery illness.

She's sent to live with her uncle who has a grand house but seems pretty cold. We learn that's because he's sad that his wife died. And his son is a very sickly boy. His wife had a garden that she loved but he'd closed it up and kept everyone out.

But the young girl (Li Ye) finds the garden with the help of a small bird and a friend, takes the sickly son there and he progressively gets better.

It's a great story, and I was even more excited to find they've released this series of books as audio books as well, so I've started listening to the same book.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's another book that's written using only basic (almost childlike) language but still has an interesting story.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Monkey's Paw (Mandarin Companion)

In a previous post, I mentioned how much I liked the "Mandarin Companion" series of books. They are written in graded levels of Chinese. I've recently read another book in this series: The Monkey's Paw.

This is a classic tale that's based around the concept of "be careful of what you wish for".

It's the tale of a family (mother and father and their adult son). The son is a factory worker. A mysterious old friend of the father visits them one day. He tells them about a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes to whoever holds it. While warning them that a great toll can be felt by those that take the wishes, he still ends up giving it to them.

And as you can imagine, they later end up wishing they'd never heard of it.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Although the language is again a bit repetitive and simplistic in places, once again I'd say that the level was perfect for me. It's so much more interesting to read these books with more teen or adult themes where the writing is still at a child level.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company (Mandarin Companion)

I've often heard that the best way to learn any language is to spend a lot of time reading the language, particularly books. I really think that's true. So, given my interest in learning Mandarin (Chinese), I wanted to spend more time reading the language.

Now the challenge is always that until you know enough language, it's hard to read books at all, and if you have to keep looking up all the words, that gets painful pretty quickly too. I've heard that ideally, you want to already know about 90% of the words. You want to already know almost all of the common words and need to look up the words that are harder for you.

Now the problem with that is that most books that I could read like that were designed for children, and it's hard to keep your interest going when you're just reading children's books.

So, I was really excited to come across a series of graded readers for Mandarin. The first book I read was Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1 (Chinese Edition) by Renjun Yang (Adapter), Arthur Conan Doyle (Author), John Pasden (Editor).

Mandarin Companion Graded Readers

I was already familiar with John through his previous work on I gather he's been the driving force in these readers. The description of the concept is as follows:

Mandarin Companion is a series of easy-to-read novels in Chinese that are fun to read and proven to accelerate language learning. Every book in the Mandarin Companion series is carefully written to use characters, words, and grammar that a learner is likely to know.

Level 1 is intended for Chinese learners at an upper-elementary level. Most learners will be able to approach this book after one to two years of formal study, depending on the learner and program. This series is designed to combine simplicity of characters with an easy-to-understand storyline which helps learners to expand their vocabularies and language comprehension abilities. The more they read, the better they will become at reading and grasping the Chinese language.

For those who can read some Chinese, this typical page should give you an idea of the level that the book uses:

This book is an adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story. In the book, Holmes is called "Gao Ming" (or Tall & Clever). I was surprised how much fun the book was, and how they managed to keep the twists and turns in the plot.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Although I found it a bit repetitive and simplistic in places, I'd say that the level was perfect for me. I just had a few words here and there that I needed to look up, and, very conveniently, in the Kindle version, they've highlighted words they suspect you might not know, and you just click them to go to a definition, and you can return directly to where you were reading. I'll be reading more of these.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10