Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande

subtitle - How to Get Things Right

What a delight!  A simple idea applied to complex specialized areas works wonders.  The author has written previously with clarity on complex topics.  This time he provides examples to support his idea that the use of checklists in professional, complex situations improve outcomes.  Some quotes:

P. 13 -...the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.  Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.

p. 73 - The philosophy is that you push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center.  You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise.

p. 79 ...under conditions of true complexity...efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail [Katrina example]

p. 79 - ...checklists..check to ensure the stupid but critical stuff is not overlooked...another set ...to ensure people talk and coordinate and accept responsiblity

p. 123 DO-CONFIRM checklist or READ-DO checklist

p. 175 - ..[pilots] they adhere to a strict discipline - the kind most other professions avoid

Definitely food for thought for healthcare and government!

published: 2009  Read: 1/2012  Category: Non-fiction

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anna - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This is the first book in a trilogy called the Kirov saga.  I've already read the author's epic series, The Morland Dynasty, that covers the history of England from the 14th century up through World War I and loved it, so I wanted to read one of her other series.

Anna is an orphaned young woman who becomes a governess for a Russian aristocrat in 1802.  The story continues through Napoleon's retreat in 1812.  The writing was lyrical, painting wonderful images of the Russian countryside and famous cities and revealing the horrors of war.

I found my old barrier of not being able to pronounce the names of the characters getting me less invested in the book.   That, and my lack of knowledge about Russian geography.  I won't be reading the rest of the series right away but I do look forward to learning more Russian history and culture.

The good news is that due to the clamoring of her readers, the author is working on another installment of the Morland Dynasty.  Now that I'll eat right up!

Published:  1990  Read: 1/2012

Half.com link to my copy

Monday, January 16, 2012

Defining the Wind - Scott Huler

Sub-title: The Beaufort Scale, and how a 19th-century admiral turned science into poetry

What a gem this book is!  I love the genre I think of as "history bites".  They are books that illuminate an obscure bit of history and tell a story of a key discovery or invention.  

In this work of non-fiction, Scott Huler, an NPR regular, tells how Francis Beaufort's name came to be attached to the scale describing the power of the wind.  He describes the scale as "110 words of poetry" and I came to appreciate his viewpoint.  Such a simple looking list giving so much information in such a concise manner.  It speaks to writing clearly for the layman, being precise, organization and consistency.  Beaufort kept track of the wind in notebooks for most of his life and they are still able to be viewed.

The book also describes the men at the end of the 18th century as science and technology emerged and defines the difference between the two as science being systematic knowledge about the real world vs technology which are things we create to solve problems or to do work  (p.91). Language then is one of the first and oldest technologies. 

The author spent many years researching the history of the scale because of his admiration for its writing and its writer to find out who they were and how they came to create the scale.

Links this book led me to:
The BBC Shipping Forecast that uses the scale in their daily broadcast

Published: 2004 Read: 1/2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kristin Lavransdatter - Sigrid Undset

Author Winner of Nobel Prize 1928

What a wonderful beginning to a New Year! The story of a fictional maid, Kristin Lavransdatter in 14th Century Norway is really 3 books:
 --The Bridal Wreath Kristin, the daughter of a landowner is doted on by her father. She falls in love with a dashing, reckless man, Erlend, and betrays her family's trust and all to get her way and marry him.
 --The Mistress of Husaby Kristin moves with Erlend to his estate at Husaby where she takes responsibility for running it and bears seven sons. Erlend is arrested for treason.
 --The Cross Erlend is stripped of his possessions and his family moves back to Kristin's childhood home. As her children grow, her and Erlend's relationship deteriorates and Kristin anguishes over her motherly love, Catholic faith and passion for Erlend.

The story today would be called an "historical" novel as the author weaves in facts of medieval Norway. Details of daily life,dress and worship permeate the tale. This translation uses the language of the times which can take time to absorb but adds to the authenticity. But the book is much, much more. The relationships between father/daughter, husband/wife, mother/child, and many more demonstrate the meaning of love, honor, loyalty, faithfulness and forgiveness and the consequences of disobedience, imprudence, pride and anger.
I found my own heart aching at Kristin's heartbreaks and wanted to shout at her and Erlend when their headstrong ways brought pain and suffering. I plan to look for the later English translation and skim it for comparison. How wonderful that a book almost 90 years old still rings true today.  I also enjoyed being immersed in the daily life of the 14th century where snippets of historical events came to life in the ways it affected the people living in those times.  I was struck by how all encompassing was their catholic faith.  Truly a recommended read.

Click here for Half.com link to version I read
Published: 1923, English translation Read: 1/2012

2011 Book List

I didn't stick with my plan to post reviews of all the books I read. I did do my annual list so email me if you'd like a copy. I'm going to try again in 2012 to post reviews here.