Books Read in April

April ended up being fairly productive on the reading front, with four books finished, bringing the year-to-date total to 19. Here are a few quick highlights on each of April’s reads.

Never Split the Difference — Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

Hands down the best read of the year so far. Voss, the former lead hostage negotiator for the FBI, blends a compelling mix of stories and theory to how he practices the delicate art of negotiation. If you ever interact with other human beings (i.e. all of us), there is a lesson here for you. Surprisingly a large portion of his approach is focused on empathetic listening. In a distracted world, it is amazing to hear how powerful (and difficult to do) the simple act of giving someone their full attention is.

Mastery — Robert Greene

Mastery is unlike any book I have read before. The writing style is an interesting blend of Malcolm Gladwell, meets motivational speaker, meets spiritual guru. Yet all that to say, Mastery seems like it should be required reading for any new college graduate. I finally got to it, just almost 15 years late. Greene’s overarching point is that very few people truly climb the pathway to Mastery in their chosen domain. When you look at world class achievers who have left a sizable body of work in their discipline, there is a common pattern to how they grew and developed their skills, starting with a mentor and then moving to independence, creativity and lasting contribution. In some ways, this book pairs nicely with Josh Waitzkin’s Art of Learning as a meta-study of achievement.

The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King — Rich Cohen

Samuel Zemurray was an impoverished Russian immigrant who started his professional career selling near ripe bananas off the back of a freight train in the rural south. From that inauspicious beginning, he built Cuyamel Fruit and later became the head of United Fruit. This book is a fascinating tale looking at turn of the century American industry and politics through the eyes of a now common and humble fruit, the banana. Yet at that time, the banana was a symbol of economic opportunity and prosperity. Zemurray’s name should be mentioned alongside that of J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller and other economic titans of that time. As an indication of his level of influence, he played a meaningful role in toppling two South American governments. This was incredibly entertaining and could easily be optioned into a movie someday.

The Generosity Network — Jennifer McCrea and Jeff Walker

No doubt we have all been tasked with the act of fundraising for a non-profit at some point. McCrea (of Harvard) and Walker (former private equity senior leader) have drafted a thoughtful work that encourages us to see philanthropy in a much broader capacity. By viewing fundraising as a consultative approach where the ask is one of finding common causes and passions, it removes the power barrier between those with the money and those without. Instead, it becomes about two eager heads circling around an issue to determine where or how it may fit within the potential donors philanthropic aspirations. In all this book does a nice job of recognizing that the “inch deep and mile wide approach” to philanthropy is going away. Instead, people are diving deeply into a narrower set of causes. This should be required reading for any non-profit board member or director of development.

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