A gentle entry into the world of book reviews
January 8, 2008, 2:28 pm
Filed under: books, school

I still don’t know if I’m willing to commit to writing reviews of books that I’m reading here – if I do, they’ll likely be more like reflections than proper reviews. When I think of writing reviews, my mind goes back to when I was doing album reviews in the music biz . . . which became burdensome at times, trying to convey what was good and what wasn’t.

But for now, I’ll start with some overview reflections on last year’s reading list.

a perfect messA Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder This was
definitely one of the more fun reads of the year for me. It takes on a lot of the myths of organization and supposed efficiency, and how many of the systems that are designed to maximize output actually makes things run less smoothly. There are tons of case studies of how messiness has brought about great gain. Many people know about the development of penicillin, for example, and how it was the result of an accidental discovery, which was made in a very messy lab. I think my favorite example in the book was a high-tech filing system used by the biggest organizational guru in Japan. It involves a horizontal filing system for papers on office shelves . . . which turns out looking a heckuva lot like my desk at home, just turned on its side – the most important pieces of paper in a pile of unrelated stuff always find their way to the top of the pile, where they’ll be most available and used most frequently. I know I didn’t describe that very well, but hopefully you get the picture. The book debunks a lot of the hype and obsession about people having to be orderly all the time, and the virtue that is ascribed to all the neat freaks of the world. It does stop short of advocating a completely messy or unclean existence, but it helps regular folks like me quit beating up on ourselves for leaving the junk mail on the kitchen counter all the time.

The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizationsstarfish and spider I’m not the kind of guy that goes around picking up the newest, hippest business books out there, but this has been a pretty popular book. Like the previous book, I read this one for school. It’s a terrific read – very quick and easy, but with some profound thoughts about how we put our organizations (could be businesses, could be churches) together. Again, lots of anecdotes about how “leaderless” systems develop and thrive, and can create success if they don’t get too bogged down with a top-down or dependent culture. To summarize quickly, spiders and starfish are both organisms with multiple legs and multiple directions. Spiders have multiple legs, but also have a central head, where all the thinking and control takes place. Starfish, however, have a completely distributed existence – there is no central brain . . . and somehow all the DNA stuff operates efficiently in all parts of the organism. One of the implications of this is that you can kill a spider by killing the head . . . but you can’t kill a starfish simply by cutting off one of its arms/legs/whateverthosethingsare. In fact, if you cut off a leg, it will likely grow another one in its place. Spider organizations are what we’re accustomed to seeing in the West – top down, centralized authority, command and control kind of stuff. But especially in the internet age, we’ve seen how Starfish organizations can thrive and succeed by having a decentralized operation that doesn’t rely too heavily on that kind of structure. Characteristics of spider and starfish organizations are given throughout, as is a model for a new kind of leader within starfish organizations – the catalyst. Once my school reading backs off (in another year and a half), I’ll very likely come back to this one again.

jesus and the eyewitnessesJesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony For fans of the scholarly work of N.T. Wright, this book by Richard Bauckham might be of interest. Like Wright, Bauckham takes on the scholars affiliated with the Jesus Seminar and the various quests for the historical Jesus. He argues very thoroughly and convincingly that the gospels were the product of eyewitness testimony of Jesus, and not the result of imposed political/religious agendas of specific faith communities in the early church. In other words, the gospels are essentially what they claim to be. Having come out of a conservative theological background and approach to biblical criticism, this was not a new form of thought for me, but I understand the value of a work like this. Now, this book isn’t light reading or of interest to a lot of you folks out there, but it was an important book in the biblical theology community in the past year, so there you go.

I’ll come back and post on what I view as the most important book I read last year, but later.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

See…that’s what I’m talking about.

A Perfect Mess was one I read about on someone else’s blog and have been interested in…now I have your words as well and it makes me want to bump it up…

Lovely, I say, lovely.

Comment by john chandler

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