What I’ve Been Reading

A few highlights.

1. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore. The satisfying feeling of finishing a 600 page biography! It delivered knowledge and entertainment on a remarkably high percentage of its pages. Montefiore brings to life both the man and moment thanks to lots of dialogue which draws on new archive material. I knew little about Stalin going in other than that he was a mass murderer of epic proportions. I came away horrified at the extent of his brutality, yet intrigued / confused by his apparent normalcy. Among other things, he was highly intellectual, and honest-thinking about emotional issues relating to his family and his loneliness. Montefiore conveys this humanity without dulling the main story which is death and evilness. By the end of the section on the Great Terror the numbers are mind-boggling. 700,000 killed in the Great Terror alone. “Stalin had more lives on his conscience than Hitler.”

As part of my learn-history-through-biography approach, I especially enjoyed getting the Russian perspective on Stalin’s meetings with Roosevelt and Truman at Potsdam and comparing it to Truman’s account as told in McCullough’s spellbinding biography. Having now read about Truman and Stalin, I’m next going to read Mao, Churchill, and Roosevelt biographies.

2. Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff and Caryle Adler. Marc and Carlye do a great job of telling the story of salesforce.com and sharing the lessons. Most books like this stink. This one doesn’t. The storytelling is well-executed, the lessons are for the most part original or at least told in a compelling way, and there’s plenty of non-business musings on philosophy and philanthropy which are provocative.

Nine times out of ten, companies fail because they don’t set up a large enough sales force and thus have no way to collect enough revenue. Don’t skimp on sales reps: 25 to 50 percent of the employee base should be salespeople who report to the head of sales. (Half of our company is in sales.) ….

I played the role of revolutionary at our launch party and even wore army fatigues because I needed to demonstrate that I was ready to lead our battle against the established software industry.

I recommend this book to anyone in the software industry.

3. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Dan Pink. I try to follow whatever Pink is writing / doing / thinking. This is a short career guide broken into six rules and presented in Japanese manga form. The format just works. The advice is solid — and more sophisticated than the graphic format would suggest — though anyone who’s up on this stuff will find points such as intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation somewhat familiar. This would be a good gift to anyone in their teens or 20’s who’s not particularly bookish.

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