Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary tries to tell two stories: that of the rise of temp labor, and another, of the large management consulting companies. It does a great job of describing both the life of temps and how they became so ubiquitous, through the recommendations of consulting companies. One the other hand, the detailed history of consulting companies, and the lifestyle of consultants and partners, seems pretty irrelevant and even distracting.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is showing that current labor laws are specifically poorly-designed for temps (or, said another way, the temp status was specifically designed to get around labor laws!) It would be important for politicians to understand that there are many of us without a regular paycheck, but we are forced to play by rules defined around so-called wage slaves.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup tells the story of Theranos, the biotech startup headed by a very young woman that raised $900 million before being exposed as a fraud, as its blood testing devices simply did not draw enough blood to accurately perform any of the tests it was touted to do.
The subtitle is very accurate in that many of the stories, although extreme, could take place in any other startup: the paranoia about trade secrets, the over-the-top parties with inflated claims of taking over the world, the competing engineering teams, not to mention the crazy work hours. What’s amazing in this story, and is only hinted at by the author (a journalist who sticks to facts), is how a college dropout was able to bamboozle a series of venture capitalists into raising a fortune. It’s so interesting to see that all the VCs are older men and the CEO is a young woman, and that they are all technology VCs trying hard to succeed in the biotech field. Since a very basic knowledge of chemistry suggests that the blood tests could not be accurate, how come they never inquired (and none of the biotech VCs was interested)? It’s an amazing story, not because of the internal shenanigans, but because of who was fooled.
David Graeber wrote a provocative and rather amusing essay on meaningless jobs, cited in the first chapter of the book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, and it may have been better if he had stopped with the essay. The book struggles to define what a “bullshit” may be, and the author does not seem to be able to decide whether it’s in the eye of the beholder (fair enough) or from the list that he summarily defines, which includes telemarketers (tempting!), corporate lawyers (ditto), HR managers (a bit unfair), and, eventually, everyone who is not, like him, a university professor (and *especially* university administrators). Basically his idea is that we should all get a basic guaranteed income and do whatever we please. Where the money to finance all that will come from is not clear.
And that’s too bad, because he does have a point that many jobs are absurd, or at least have absurd moments, filled with pointless bureaucracy, unclear goals, and mean bosses. Maybe someone else is writing another book about how to fight the pointlessness.
Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) is a messily organized book on a most interesting topic: the switch from traditional advertising channels to digital ads and direct consumer marketing. Of course, such a switch decimates ad agencies and individual careers and gives rise to new types of intermediaries and newly powerful digital companies. The book tries hard, too hard I think, to share portraits of advertising personalities, and seems to repeat itself over and over again as it explains how the switch in channels is leaving traditional media unable to rely on traditional revenue source while the newcomer digital companies are still learning the ropes (and, apparently, fudging their numbers with an abandon only computers can muster). Maybe the most interesting part of the story is how traditional media is adapting by creating its own in-house advertising designers, but the development is recounted only hastily. Too messy for my taste
If you have heard interviews of Satya Nadella, you know he is a thoughtful and refreshingly humble CEO with lots of good ideas on how to get large organizations to make good choices by treating people well. His book, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, is a bit of a mess. It tries to blend three narrative: a personal memoir, the story of the changes he made at Microsoft since taking over as CEO, and a full-length ad for Microsoft and its products. The personal memoir is interesting (and poignant, as he has two special-needs children). The transformation story could be more inspiring if it had fewer business-speak clichés. The ad is insufferable. Maybe listen to an interview instead?
Buzz Ride: Driven to Disruption: Memoirs of an Uber Driver and its disturbing double-barreled subtitle could be so much more than what it is, if the author would have shared a bit more about the financial and managerial side of his experience as a member of the sharing economy. There are just a few glimpses of the relationship with Uber, and nothing at all about financial arrangements, which would have been interesting to understand, especially as the author drives a Mercedes!
Instead, he chooses to focus on his clients, who seem to have partaken abundantly of alcohol and drugs before stepping into the cab (the author chose to work late hours, so perhaps it’s no surprise). And in-cab behaviors are not what Miss Manners may recommend. So the book is entertaining to a certain extent, but we tire of the rides just about when the author decides to stop driving.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less can be painfully long and painfully obvious — and indeed if you proceed to page 8 and peruse the table there you will get all you need from it: choose your priorities carefully, say no to the rest, and enjoy. That said, the author makes very wise comments about the inaness of company mission statements.