Summary of reading Jan-June 2020

Summary of some of the books I read in the first half of 2020.

Leaders: Myth and Reality - Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, Jason Mangone

Stanley McChrystal and co attempt to create a modern version of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives comparing pairs of historical leaders from different walks of life to understand what made them effective leaders. I learned a lot about the history and circumstances of each of the leaders profiled, including Robert E Lee, Walt Disney, Martin Luther, and Maximilien Robespiere, and the book is worth reading for that alone. The last chapters of the book analyse leadership qualities at a high level. I didn’t come away feeling I’d learned how to be a better leader, although given their analysis concluded that there was no formula for leadership perhaps that was unsurprising. Nevertheless I enjoyed it most for the history lessons, so would recommend it on that basis.

Scrum - the art of doing twice the work in half the time

Supposedly the book on Scrum, a set of rules and practices that claim to improve how teams, especially those in software development, get work done. The book is essentially a collection of anecdotes of how the author led various teams to victory and how each scrum practice was instrumental in their success. I found the excessive self congratulatory rhetoric a bit tiring, and overall found the book lacking in practical advice. However if you’re looking for motivation and enthusiasm for agile software development then this book has it in spades.

Find Your Way - Carly Fiorina

A motivational book, written by the former CEO of HP. It’s an easy read and contains some useful ideas from her extensive career experience, but nothing too profound.

Unit 731 Testimony - Hal Gold

Documents the Japanese human testing program which ran from the late 1930s through world war 2. Testimonies from former medics and army recruits that worked there tell the harrowing experiments performed on live human subjects, primarily to develop Japan’s biological warfare capability. What’s most shocking is that all of the leaders of Unit 731 were granted immunity from war crimes by the United States in return for all of the scientific and engineering knowledge obtained by the forbidden experiments. The USA negotiated the deal in order to prevent the knowledge being sold to the Soviets instead.

Ordinary Men - Christopher Browning

This book attempts to detail how the men of Reserve Police Battalion 1 who were primarily mature, had established careers and even their own families, participated in the shooting and deportation of Jews as part of the final solution in Nazi Germany. The history is fascinating, but the author fails to draw any conclusions as to why these men committed such brutal crimes.