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Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design
Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design
by Henry Petroski
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Let's learn to accept "less than perfect", Oct. 4 2003
Advertising is based on the idea of convincing consumers that a perfect product will bring perfect happiness; Petroski offers the cold reality that since every product and service is created by humans, there is no perfect design.
Petroski is an engineer.
The first thing engineers learn, based on my ancient ordeal as an engineering student, is that nothing is perfect. Everything involves choices and compromises. Even when an engineer built "the one hoss shay" with such perfection that no single part would fail first, one flaw remained -- when it wore out, the whole thing collapsed instantly and completely.
At first, this book annoyed me. His first example of the epitome of design is the little plastic tripod that keeps the lid of a pizza box from being crushed onto the gooey surface of the hot pizza inside. There isn't even a name for that little tripod; failing anything else, you'd think someone would name it "Sam" in honor of holding up the roof. Samson, after all, was strong, useful and not quite perfect.
Yet, such is the genius of this book. He could have written about the design flaws that have caused two Space Shuttle disasters; instead, he takes everyday items we are completely familiar with and explains why these designs are less than perfect.
When an author can devote half-a-chapter to the design challenges of cup holders in a 1996 Volvo and make it interesting, you know he's onto something. Understanding why a cup holder in a car falls short of a perfect design, and why chairs, lightbulbs, door knobs, potato peelers, toothbrushes, paper bags and duct tape are still works in progress, gives you an appreciation for the design flaws in a Space Shuttle and in the human organization which launches Shuttles or even those which run the "intelligence" agencies. Only TV sitcoms and dramas offer "perfect" solutions -- which, in itself, is the major flaw of television.
Newspapers are sometimes called "a journal to expose the faults of the world and the typogarphical errors of its staff." The humour is barbed, but true. Petroski takes that idea a major leap forward, showing us in everyday terms why everything human's design is less than perfect. On that basis, he asks for an acceptance of the inevitable flaws of technology.
On the same basis, this book will give any thoughtful reader an appreciation of why everything is somewhat less than perfect, and thus all people should be ready to accept the inevitable flaws of others.

Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order
Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order
by John Newhouse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sleepwalking into disaster, Sept. 27 2003
"Bush and the kindred spirits who advise him are not impressed by history," John Newhouse sums up at the end of this book, which explains why the Bush administration has turned much of the world against the United States.
It nicely sums up the policies of the radical right, which now controls the presidency and federal government. When you treat those who differ from you with insult and contempt, instead of listening and debate, it's hardly surprising they are not your biggest fans when you need help. In late September, President George Bush went hat-in-hand to the United Nations begging for aid to help rebuild the facilities destroyed by American and British bombs in Iraq. Not surprisingly, having advised Bush not to destroy Iraq in the first place, UN members had little respect and support for Bush's plea for help.
It's an incredible story. On the day after Sept. 11, 2001, the French newspaper 'Le Monde' declared in its main headline "We are all Americans." It was a widely shared attitude not only in France, but in Canada, Mexico and most of the world. Newhouse shows how it took the zealots of the Bush administration, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, less than two years to generate anti-American feelings through most of the world.
The blunt reality is that America needs friends, supporters and allies. To cite one example: the Bush administration has turned the Clinton budget surplus into the most massive federal deficits in history, now growing by about $ 1.5 billion per day. As the war on Iraq showed, about 75 percent of the money to finance the deficit comes from overseas. If you think foreign opinion doesn't matter, try running the country without the foreign "opinion" that now pours into the United States treasury.
In incident after incident, detail after detail, Newhouse shows how the insensitivity and crassness of Rumseld and a few other Bush zealots is leading the United States to a new and absolute isolationism. Iran is one example, a country facing as much danger from Arab fundamentalism as any nation and eager, after 9/11, to join the United States in rooting out the terrorists on its soil.
Instead of cooperation, of which Iran had much to offer of great benefit to the US, Bush labeled Iran as part of the "axis of evil." It was a great sound bite for Bush's State of the Union speech, it got a lot of attention, and it utterly destroyed any chance of Iran providing major intelligence to the US to combat terrorism.
Pakistan, in contrast, which actively supports the Taliban and al Qaeda, is still one of Bush's allies. It makes one wonder whose side Bush is on.
There's little new or surprising in this book for anyone who's followed the news for the past couple of years. Instead, Newhouse does a masterful job of making sense of the radical transformation of American foreign policy that is now underway. It's a wonderful compilation for the isolationists, who want to see America as aloof from the world as Cuba and North Korea. Sadly, these isolationists are not impressed enough by history to know what happened because of American isolationism after World War I and after World War II until the Marshall Plan took effect. They will love the successes outlined in this book.
For anyone who is impressed by history, it shows how Americans are sleepwalking into a history filled with terror, disaster and decline.

Crossing Arizona
Crossing Arizona
by Chris Townsend
Edition: Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars Whingeing along the Arizona Trail, Sept. 21 2003
This review is from: Crossing Arizona (Paperback)
Like most tourists, Chris Townsend loves modern conveniences that make his life easier but detests similar amenities when they clash with what he considers should be an untouched wilderness experience.
He lives in Scotland, and thus came to Arizona with the typical Brit attitude of "Look at how you colonials managed to muck everything up since we left." He's full of complaints about Americans who don't appreciate the wilderness, ignoring the fact that even the worst of Americans aren't as bad as the "horrible families" of Britain who consider it sporting to steal cars for a lark and then burn them out of pure meanness.
These writers are boring, and Townsend's rants paint him as an insufferable toff. Sadly, he doesn't seem to appreciate the desert or forests in the same manner as writers such as Joseph Wood Krutch or even Zane Grey. He doesn't appreciate that we live in a messy modern world, with only a few gems of wilderness left.
For example: Townsend cites efforts in the 1960s to dam the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon itself, and the noble efforts to stop it. Excellent. He ignores the alternative that was built with the connivance of the people who stopped the dam -- one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the nation which spews its pollution over tens of thousands of square miles of the Southwest. He also thinks Lake Powell should be drained. Maybe it's time to tear down the Forth Bridge as "unnatural."
His arrogant rants are the equivalent of a Yankee tourist recommending Hadrian's Wall be torn down to restore the natural landscape. Of course, much of it HAS been torn down -- a look at any farmer's barns within a few miles of the wall shows how those Roman building stones were re-used. Anyone who's hiked off a trail knows there's no "untouched" landscape left. And, if you're going to stick to the trail -- this book is about hiking The Arizona Trail -- then you're in man-made country.
Like all too many wilderness advocates, Townsend fails to appreciate the natural world for what now exists. It's like building a replica of a wooden ship; no matter how authentic you make it, it isn't the original. In some cases, it's better than the original. Likewise, the Arizona of today is not the Arizona of a century ago, nor five centuries ago. In some ways, it's better.
Britain is filled with almost 60 million people like Townsend; all whinges, moans and complaints but never the initiative to do anything. Anyone with energy and ambition emigrates, which is why Australia is such a dynamic place. Those who stay home find fault with everything, and particularly with anyone who had the energy to leave.
In brief, the book is the first of its kind so it's the finest yet available. Anyone who plans to do any extensive hiking in Arizona should read it. It contains enough Arizona details to be valuable, enough hiking information to be useful, enough rants to please the beads and Birkenstocks crowd, but far from enough cactus hugging to satisfy a desert rat.
But then, how many readers are likely to be desert rats? Buy it, it's more interesting than those which haven't been published. It's not the type of book to take on a desert hike, but it's a good read before such a walk. Someday, an even better book may be written about The Arizona Trail, but if you plan on waiting that long the trail may be paved by then.

Thirty Days: Tony Blair and the Test of History
Thirty Days: Tony Blair and the Test of History
by Peter Stothard
Edition: Hardcover
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars There's always be an excuse in England, Sept. 4 2003
There will always be an England, according to the refrain of the song I learned in the first grade of school; it's just that we never dreamed Britain would one day be a poodle trembling under the wings of the American eagle.
Tony Blair, as this book abundantly makes clear, is England's "Cleopatra" to the mighty George "Caesar" Bush. When you think of how Caesar used Cleopatra, for his own personal pleasure and the benefit of Rome, you get an idea of how this book portrays Blair.
It is an incisive book in many ways, and because of that it is also very sad. The goal seems to be one of fawning obsequiousness to Blair's decision to support Bush's war on Iraq. Sadly, little details seep through to thoroughly undermine the decisive image sought by Blair.
Stothard writes of Blair's visit to Camp David, "The hosts' first view of their British guests is of the cleverest men in Whitehall, without a raincoat between them, muttering nervous words about having 'only one suit' while rain lashes in horizontal lines over the tarmac." Geeeee. These Brits, who think they can advise and guide an American oil-patch president, didn't think to phone ahead and ask about the weather?
Okay, another example. Near the end of the war, President Bush flew to "Merry Old Ireland" to meet Blair at Hillsborough Castle, just outside Belfast. Once again, Stothard is at his unwitting best, "The Prime Minister is not having his normal cooked breakfast; there's just bananas, melon, croissants, because that's what the Americans want." Geeeee. Even McDonalds is sometimes able to come up with a more varied menu.
Who runs Britain? Not Blair, that's for sure. Stothard writes of a Scots Member of Parliament who "has several thousand Catholic constituents who put the Pope's views before their Prime Minister." Blair's Foreign Secretary has problems of his own because, "Muslim voters are well represented in Blackburn, Lancashire. They dislike the idea of their elected representative helping the American takeover of a Muslim country."
Very early, he mentions plans to curb anti-social behaviour in Britain by "schemes to punish graffiti-writers and car-burners." Graffiti is a problem? It can be solved very simply, quickly, easily and cheaply by having a few blokes with paint sprayers who simply paint out any graffiti within 24-hours of it being reported. It works.
The whole book is written in this manner, expressing the idea "wouldn't life be nice if only somebody would do something." In describing a speech that was pivotal to Blair's political survival, Stothard writes, "He has written most of them alone, in longhand in blue ink, high in the small sitting room of the flat . . . ." Geeeeee. Doesn't Blair have any speechwriters or aides to whom he can think out loud and get back several written draughts of a speech? It's little wonder Britain is so leaderless. If you can't organize a staff to put together a speech, how can you get trains to run on time or clean up graffiti? Perhaps, as Cleopatra realized one night while lying flat on her back, it's time to accept a pro-consul as the real ruler of the country.
Cleopatra had the guts to fight back. Her mistake was seducing Marc Antony, the wrong Caesar in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of independent thinking, Stothard tells of a brilliant, principled, idealistic prime minister surrounded by fawning toadies who are afraid to visit the "Gent's" without prior permission from Tony.
It's not that Stothard is unobservant. He sparkles in descriptions of the visit to Camp David. He contrasts the flock of puppies bouncing along after the Blair Poodle to American presidential aides who are as independent as a bunch of posse riders gathering at the campfire after having strung up a few rustlers.
The great weakness of this book is it's lack of revealing detail. He never came up with a typical daily schedule for Blair, and he omitted the full text of Blair's "pivotal" speech to the House of Commons. Readers deserve to have that text, and possibly texts of some of the other crucial statements or debates.
Ignoring the text of Blair's significant speeches is like writing a history of World War II and ignoring the speeches of Churchill, Hitler and Roosevelt. Perhaps, though, that is Stothard's final message -- Blair is far from being a Churchill, or even a Thatcher.
Nonetheless, it's a fascinating look at Blair. Stothard cites President Clinton and "the absurdities of the Monica Lewinsky affair" for not taking greater military action. Maybe, in five or ten years time, Brits will look at the turmoil and terror in the Middle East and ask plaintively, "Why can't we find our own Monica Lewinsky when we need her the most?"
On the other hand, if the "Mother of All Wars" which toppled Saddam Hussein proved to be the catalyst that set the Muslim world onto the path of a docile, Allah-fearing, oil-pumping and trouble-free region and thank Blair as the "God-Father of all Peace."
Which do you think is more likely?

On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat
On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat
by Nathaniel Stone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.36
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3.0 out of 5 stars Row, row, row your boat -- and write to tell about it, Aug. 30 2003
This is a book of an incredible adventure, something few people would even dream about and almost no one has to courage to undertake, and yet there is a curious emptiness about the whole exercise.
Thing is, it's not new. People have rowed boats across the Atlantic before, let alone on inland waters in North America. Stone things of eastern North America as an island, not as a great body interlaced with streams that are a living breathing pulse of half-a-continent. In the Southwest, rivers are strangers; the Zunis store their river just east of the pueblo at Blackrock Lake. Spend a few nights at Ojo Caliente, and you appreciate the magic of water in a barren land.
When it first opened, merely driving the Alaska Highway was an adventure worth a book. Now that thousands drive it every year, it needs more than a listing of mileposts and towns along the way. Canadian author Farley Mowatt showed what boats can be in 'The Boat Who Wouldn't Float.' Gerry Spiess described the feelings of sailing a 10-foot long boat (Stone's boat is 17-feet, 9-inches long) single-handed across the Atlantic.
Stone was a teacher in Zuni, New Mexico; yet, from what he wrote, it's merely a place where he went to teach Native Americans. It makes me wonder if he has ever walked outdoors during a still night and breathed in the incredible soft smokey scent of burning pinon and mesquite; or been the victim of the wonderful Zuni sense of practical jokes; attended a Shalako or Zuni Tribal Fair; or even talked to folks as they replaster their adobe buildings. This account of his trip makes me wonder if he ever stopped to smell the flowers, or whether he was just interested in earning more miles.
His writing is like that of many teachers, filled to the brim with very valuable knowledge which we really should learn --- but empty of interpersonal relationships. He offers no feel of New York, the damp gray cold of the water and air, especially at the time of year he left. I couldn't find his descriptions of rowing a day, or days, in the rain. It's as though this was an accomplishment to complete, more than an adventure to live.
Granted, the classic American travel stories are by Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. In comparison, Stone merely covered miles. His students probably do much of the same thing; they get facts from him, and they give facts back to him at test-time. Then, away from the teacher's gaze, they draw and paint their feelings instead of what they are taught -- and turn out some of the finest original artwork in the Southwest.
Perhaps times have just changed too much from the years when I canoed. Near the end of the book, Stone offers a chilling observation, "I've long since learned that the more expensive a boat, the less likely its captain is to wave." Perhaps we are little too money-conscious, leaving adventurers such as Stone as orphans from a time long past. If so, it would explain much of the hollowness of the book compared to times past.
Stone's friendliest receptions came from professionals who make their living on the water; his warmest experiences were in the Cajun country of Louisiana; his coldest chills were on the Florida coast where multi-million dollar mansions are hollow fronts for empty hearts and closed minds. Perhaps his discovery of America in a rowboat reflects a different land that the one of 50 years ago -- a much diminished sense of purpose and place.
In conclusion, it's a mildly interesting story of an incredible adventure. Most people will be astonished to learn that such a voyage is possible; Stone not only did it, but showed the experience can be entertaining as well. It sure beats driving an SUV.

Looking Back An Immigrant In The New World 1907 To 1918
Looking Back An Immigrant In The New World 1907 To 1918
by Marie Jastrow
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of the American Dream is optimimism, Aug. 28 2003
There used to be a magic in America, and after reading Marie Jastrow's account of her and her mother's emmigration in 1907, it makes wonder wonder if it can ever be recovered.
In Serbia, Marie's father was a failure. He married well, but lost his wife's dowry in two failed stores and finally neded up running a hot-dog and beer stand in a traveling circus. He thought life must offer something better for him, his family and young daughter. In 1905 he got $30 for steerage passage in 1905, then found out what America was all about. He spoke only a few words of English, his work experience consisted of two failed businesses sponsored by his wealthy in-laws, and there were no jobs to be had. He finally collapsed, near starvation, on the steps of St. Mark's Hospital in New York; when he was revived, instead of welfare, he was given a mob and pail. It was his first job in America, with the title of "porter."
This introduction made his commitment to America complete. He never became rich. But he never felt any desire to return to Serbia. The feature he loved about this country was that Americans placed more value on ability than on birth. As one immigrant said, "My cap is not worn out from raising it in the presence of gentlemen." His first job in America with a mop and pail would have been untjinkable even for a failed businessman in Europe; in America, he realized "Honest labour is no disgrace."
It reflects the American Dream. Jastrow writes, "It has always been so in the history of life. When adverse forces press upon a population and survival becomes increasingly difficult, only the venturesome few seek their opportunities in a new environment." Her husband found his success in America was measured by freedom; their son, Robert Jastrow, became one of America's premiere astrophysicists.
But, and perhaps I should say BUT, there are vast differences between then and now. In that era, as Jastrow writes, "If, by chance, a mother met her child's teacher on the street she would become settled, and wipe her hand on her apron before extending it. Often she would dip into a kind of slight curtsey and consider the meeting the most momentous even in her life." In my experience, much of this attitude lasted into the 1950s.
Now, think of recent years when conservatives such as Bill Bennett have viciously and persistently denounced teachers as immoral, unfit, uneducated, unpatriotic, and every other sin not currently in use. Arizona's largest newspaper denounced and ridiculed teachers for generations, simply because they were government employees. The respect of Jastrow's era has turned into modern contempt, with the result that a once expanding and progressive educational system has been turned into a profession of shame.
The obvious question, for any intelligent person reading this book, is whether this change from obedient deference for teachers and politicians to the modern open contempt will produce a similar intellectual curiosity and achievement. Certainly, 15-year-old Hungarian refugee Andy Grove has done well since coming to America, including the founding of Intel as one of his achievements; likewise, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did rather well in the 1970s in created Apple Computer; and, in the 1990s, Jeff Bezos with Amazon and Bill Gates with Microsft have proven to be rather inventive and successful.
It's the fun of this book. Jastrow describes the often harrowing conditions which became the welcoming experience for millions of people. It's the sort of orderly structured predictable world so longed for by conservatives. Yet, America has continued to do rather well. It could be that sustained raps on the knuckles, or intense multi-cultural sensitrivity, are not the keys to the success of America. Instead, it may be something far simpler -- the eternal Amerifcan optimism to give anyone a chance to succeed. In the "Acknowledgments" at the end of the book, she expresses "a very special debt to W. W. Norton for launching my career as a writer at the age of eighty-two."
How very American.
This is a land of perpetual opportunity. It's a wonderful and beautifully accurate portrait of times long past. Her father walked to work when the weather was good, because that saved the 5-cents carfare and her mother would say, "I can buy a bread and have one cent left over." One cent bought half a pint of milk, an egg, a roll. Even 30 years later, in Canada, my parents never bought sliced bread -- unsliced bread was one cent cheaper.
Like any good love affair, Jastrow doesn't analyze the subconscious meanings of her father's falling in love with America. She caught his optimism that America meant life would be better for them, and in this book she simply but eloquently shares the excitement and wonder of it all without judgment or criticism. The book is a gem.

The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World
The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World
by Peter D. Ward
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Don't we deserve a better fate than this?, Aug. 18 2003
Ever look through a kaleidoscope?
A kaleidoscope offers an ever-changing pattern of bright colors. Some patterns are weird, some beautiful. Think of watching one for an hour, with that hour symbolizing the 4.5 billion year history of our earth. On this kaleidoscope-clock, the dinosaurs
vanished 50 seconds ago; and intelligent human life -- homo sapiens, which began about 100,000 years ago -- is a one-tenth
of a second click of that kaleidoscopic clock.
On this basis, all 5,000 years of human history is a one two-hundred-and-fiftieth second of this kaleidoscope of time. That's less than the shutter click of most cameras. In comparison, dinosaurs lived for about one minute, 40 seconds. Hopefully, this sets the age of the earth in perspective.
Despite global warming, which may stall the inevitable, Ward and Brownlee suggest the normal conditions for the past and next 2.5 million years is what we call the Ice Ages. They contend the return of the Ice Age "will effectively end the world as we
know it -- and potentially end human civilization as well."
Interesting, if true.
They paint a grim picture of the future within the next few thousand years. They have gathered a mass of sophisticated data to support their premise, and come up with "phlogiston" theory of the fate of the Earth. For those who don't remember, when
phlogiston was added to an ore it produced a metal, and when taken away the result was an oxide. It was a nice simple way
to explain dozens of puzzles. Before that, of course, fire contained a mysterious property which passed through solid materials to change the properties of a metal.
My point is not that Ward and Brownlee are wrong. They offer a fascinating view of a fascinating, they would say grim, future
within a few thousand years. My point is that humans have an increasing capacity for intelligence, and during the next few
thousand years our science of today will come to be seen as outdated as the phlogiston of 250 years ago.
It's what makes their book so fascinating, and relevant. Let's assume everything they write about comes true. The challenge
then is how do we live in dramatically different conditions. They offer the elements of a fascinating mystery, which is an
intriguing look into the potential future of the Earth; like any good who-done-it, readers are left to devise their own scenario for how people of the future will cope.
Much of the book seems predicated on the "chaos" theory, in which a butterfly flaps its wings in Rio de Janeiro and sets air
currents in motion which eventually build up into a hurricane which devastates the coast of Florida. Okay. That happens. But
there are millions of butterflies in Brazil, and we don't get millions of hurricanes every year. There are literally a million other scenarios, and I suspect Ward and Brownlee offer the worst-case one.
Well, as anyone who lives in Florida knows, you can't rule out hurricanes. But, intelligent construction and other measures can
vastly reduce the real damage of a hurricane. Or you can choose to live elsewhere. That is the value of intelligence. Granted,
future humans may choose to do as modern Floridians and take a chance the hurricanes will pass by elsewhere.
Intelligence is difficult to assess. President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to spending $100 billion (in today's
dollars) on the Apollo Moon program. President George Bush is spending as much or more on the invasion and occupation of
Iraq. The debate has barely begun on which is more beneficial to America.
Even at that, today's "least intelligent solution" is immensely more intelligent than answers of a thousand years ago. In general, people have gotten pretty smart during the past few thousand years.
This book is a fascinating tour-de-force of the potential disasters facing life in our spot in the universe. Given enough time, the disaster scenarios will eventually come true. It reminds me of the cartoon of the physicist, standing in front of a mass of blackboards filled with abstruse equations and one final notation "Then a miracle occurs" which resolves it all.
Well, to me, the intelligence of life today is pretty much of a miracle. What if the first prokaryotes, the very first bacterial life on Earth some some 3.8 billion years ago, had read this book and decided that life and intelligence was a dead-end. Fortunately
they didn't, and so Ward and Brownlee and all the rest of us are here today and we've made our Earth into a pretty interesting
place.
Should we quit now? Will the next 3.8 billion years be any duller? Maybe it's time for someone to figure out how much smarter we are than prokaryotes and extrapolate a future for us "from facts as fragile as a butterfly's flapping wing" on the future of
intelligence.

The Ultimate Competitive Advantage: Secrets of Continuosly Developing a More Profitable Business Model
The Ultimate Competitive Advantage: Secrets of Continuosly Developing a More Profitable Business Model
by Donald Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.82
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5.0 out of 5 stars At last . . . a business book with a focus on people, Aug. 16 2003
If you can run a successful lemonade stand, according to the basic premise of this book, then you probably have the basic skills to succeed even when facing the toughest competition in modern business.
Most business advice books offer the equivalent of a coach saying, "It's easy to win a race, just run faster than anyone else." Mitchell and Coles do far more than offer simple and obvious advice; they emphasize it's not what you think, it's how you think that makes the difference. There is no end of books stressing customer service. This book says it's how you think of customer service that makes the difference -- if you want to sell lemonade, let customers add your own sugar, offer lemon slices to those who want a tarter drink, keep the noise down so you don't bother the neighbors, don't block the street, plus other common sense approaches.
Let me cite a personal example. Recently, in addition to a Big Mac, I wanted a McDonald's ice cream cone. The counter person asked what flavor, and I replied that any flavor would be fine. My response didn't fit the McDonald's program. Instead of picking a flavor, the counter person became very loud and very rude in insisting that I name a flavor. Finally, a mananger intervened and I was handed a chocolate ice cream cone -- which was perfect, though I didn't know ahead of time what flavor I wanted.
The McDonalds' clerk was too intent on following a pre-set McDonalds script. The point Mitchell and Coles stress is listening to the customer and responding, as much as is feasible within your resources, to whatever the customer wants.
Sounds simple, right? Sadly, all too many companies -- from hamburger stands to multi-national corporations, have rigid "customer satisfaction" rules that are marvelous creations of corporate ingenuity but sometimes have little to do with customer satisfaction.
If you can think of what customers want in terms of a kids' lemonade stand, then you're on the way to knowing how to satisfy customer wants in any business. Simple? Okay, why hasn't he multi-national McDonalds hasn't figured it out? When I said "any flavor," the response should have been, "Here, we hope you enjoy this flavor." Instead, I got an argument.
Most business advice books offer theories, or case studies. This book takes a different approach, asking again and again, "What would you do? How would you feel? What would you like?" It explains how a variety of companies satisfy these interests.
In the book 'The Art of Advertising,' George Lois states, "The business world worships mediocrity. Officially we revere free enterprise, initiative and individuality. Unofficially we fear it." In contrast, Mitchell and Coles fear conformity and lack of imagination; they welcome and praise the originality of ordinary customers.
Okay, who is a typical customer? Unless you're the pilot of a rent-a-jet, most customers are average people -- not corporate executives. When you read this book's story of "Mike the barber" at Harvard University you get a full appreciation of an ordinary man who became one of the school's most distinguished alumni -- despite never having taken a class or ever working for the university.
When I read the jacket blurbs praising this book, I was disappointed. They all talked of "business model innovation" and "business planning" and "business basics" and other such jargon. In my experience, every book offers such advice. What makes this one different and valuable is its focus on ordinary customers and how understanding them relates to success.
Granted, Harvard Business Review is a wonderful journal. It speaks eloquently of business plans and corporate strategies and executive insights. It is a masterful offering of even the most arcane and exotic business theories.
"The Ultimate Competitive Advantage" is better. It talks about the real people who make real businesses work. It emphasizes how you think is more effective than merely knowing what to think about textbook formulas.

The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain
The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain
by Stephen Bungay
Edition: Paperback
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overconfidence is the real enemy, May 26 2003
Unlike Americans, who have an uncommon love of bragging about everything from the trivial to the terrific, the English have a fondness for understatement that tends of ignore the reality of their accomplishments.
When the Soviets asked Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Wehrmacht's most senior operational commander, which battle he considered as the most decisive of the war in Europe. They expected him to cite Stalingrad, instead he said, "The Battle of Britain."
Had the Germans won the Battle of Britain, England could not have won the Battle of the North Atlantic and may well have been forced to accept peace terms similar to France. According to former War Minister Hore-Belisha, "the Tory party in the House were not very interested in the war, were afraid for their possessions and of the rise of Labour . . . . . " The Russians may well have defeated Germany, but that would have left all of Europe under Soviet control, not merely the eastern half of Europe as eventually happened.
The English myth of the Battle of Britain is similar to stories about Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada in 1588, when Drake preferred to finish a game of bowls before sailing out to rout the Spanish. In 1940, the myth created by Churchill is that "Never before has so much been owed by so many to so few." Like Dunkirk, the image was one of luck, pluck and mucking through the confusion, ineptness and amateurism. Bungay shows the triumph of British planning and readiness.
The German image, reinforced by quick and easy defeats of Poland and France, was that of an impregnable military machine guided by highly experienced professionals using superior technology with the rigorous discipline of well trained and effective troops. In contrast, the British were thought to be slightly dowdy country squires lucky enough to deny victory to the superb German military. Much of this legacy is based on the image of the Munich Agreement of 1938, which has ever since been used to describe English politicians as too weak to fight and too scared to rearm.
Reality is quite different. Bungay explains the British victory was based on a superb plan of operations and aircraft development that began in earnest in 1936 and was rigorously carried out in 1940. The basic idea was developed in 1922. Instead of being unprepared and underarmed, Britain was perhaps the world's best prepared and best armed nation in terms of air defense in the 1940s. The result was a decisive British victory which left the Luftwaffe crippled.
To summarize, the British fought the Battle of Britain with a Teutonic thoroughness for organization, planning, discipline and effort; they left little to chance, planned for the worst cases and didn't rely on luck. In short, the British behaved like Germans at their best, though these qualities were tempered and restrained by the civility of traditional English life. The Germans fought with a British thoroughness for bickering, personal petty disputes and trusting in an ability to muddle through; it is hardly an accident that two of the top German commanders committed suicide as a result of the internal wrangling and bitterness within the Luftwaffe high command.
In 1940, the British knew they needed a united effort if they were to win; the Germans didn't adopt a similar attitude until mid-1945, when they realized they would need a united effort if their country was to survive in the post-war period. The British, in 1945, having won through a magnificent team effort, changed governments and embarked on an "I'm all right, Jack" philosophy backed up by union strikes designed to win the maximum benefit for their members even at the price of national economic survival.
Maybe the British should learn to boast . . . . .
However, the irony today is that the epitome of English luxury, the Rolls Royce automobile -- once a product of the same company that in 1940 built engines for Spitfires -- is now powered by engines made by the same company that built engines for the Me-109s that failed so ingloriously in 1940.
But, is that something to boast about?

The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia
The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia
by Richard Pipes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.79
17 used & new from CDN$ 15.45

5.0 out of 5 stars A look into the mind of a terrorist (and model citizen), May 1 2003
Although this book is offered as a portrait of a young Russian terrorist who eventually became a beloved professor of mathematics at the University of South Dakota, it is also an invaluable look into the minds of terrorists.
Russia, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, consisted of a newly educated commercial and industrial class that was rising in wealth and power -- perhaps 10 percent of the population. The other 90 percent were peasants, totally dedicated to the monarchy with an absolute trust the Czar would solve all of their problems.
The self-made newly rich, frustrated by the status quo, wanted revolutionary change that would make everyone rich. Sergei Degaev, the son of a doctor, was frustrated by the lack of social progress in Russia. Pipes explains, "When life offers little so that the results of ideological work are not yet evident, the activist wants to see some concrete, palpable manifestation of his will, his power."
If it sounds familiar, think of the well-educated middle class Palestinian youth who volunteer to be suicide bombers, plus the support they receive from other Palestinians. Pipes cites similar attitudes in Russia in the 1880's. Terror was born as the original "shock and awe" campaign; assassinate the Czar, and Russia would rise up in glorious revolt that would bring democracy, justice and prosperity for all.
Pipes writes, "For some dimly understood reason, in modern societies from time to time, a sizable body of the young is seized by an overpowering destructive urge which, at the same time, exhibits self-destructive symptoms."
Degaev became part of a terrorist network dedicated to changing the entire social structure and attitudes of Russia by means of a few assassinations. Terrorists killed Czar Alexander II in 1881. But when US President James Garfield was assassinated the same year, Degaev's group wrote to Americans, "In a country where individual freedom offers opportunities for honest ideological struggle, where the free will of the nation determines not only the law but also the personality of those who govern -- in such a country, political assassination as a means of struggle is a manifestation of the same despotic spirit, the destruction of which in Russia is our goal . . . . . violence is justified only when it is directed against violence."
Keep in mind the vast social changes the world was seeing in the second half of the nineteenth century through industrialization and global trade; America fought a bloody civil war pitting the new industrialism against the old slave-owning mentality. For many, whether in America with the new industrialization or in Russia with the overthrow of the Czar, the future held unlimited promise and opportunities.
It's hardly new. Eric Hoffer in 'The True Believer' illustrates the rage of those who expect instant utopia and will blindly follow anyone who promises fulfillment. Pipes explains that ". . . since in our imperfect world there are always matters that can be improved, 'causes' can always be found to justify the urge to destroy and murder."
Degaev helped kill the head of the Czar's secret police. Then, he fled to America where, in a society that offered him unlimited opportunity, he became a model citizen. If you can understand Degaev, and Pipes offers an extraordinary study of his character that will fascinate anyone, you will get an insight into the mind of a terrorist.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Americans asked, "Why do they hate us?" Pipes never addresses that issue directly, but by looking into the motives of Degaev, he suggests the underlying target of terrorist hatred is their own limitations and powerlessness. If people feel limited in their opportunities, terrorism is one response.
Pipes doesn't address the issues of Sept. 11, 2001; nor of protecting our society from terrorism. It's not the purpose of his book. Instead, he looks at the "Why" of terrorism and suggests answers that also explain recent events.
It's a superb book for people who like to think for themselves.

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