Category Archives: Book Review

Risky Business by Jamie MacAlister

This book, written by a teacher at Hult International Business School and Ashridge Executive Education, seeks to identify how senior executives should develop a corporate strategy to deal with risk. So far, so worthy.

The first problem is to embrace what constitutes a corporate strategy. While the purpose of companies is pretty clear (to increase shareholder wealth), how to go about this is less so. For small businesses and many not so small businesses it is simple – sell more stuff to more customers, ideally at an increased margin. Achieving this can be very demanding, but that is the realm of tactics not strategy. Larger businesses, probably dealing with multiple products in multiple markets, must decide whether to invest and, if so, where. That decision is broadly called strategy and that is where this book is aimed.

The second thread, risk, is intended to be part of this. Clearly corporations that take a long time to develop strategy face the problem of the market places moving during their consideration of options, rendering the underlying assumptions questionable. Overlaid upon this are the risks of singular events, be they catastrophes, emergence of new technologies or loss of key contracts which again can dramatically alter the market.

Unfortunately for the reader the book never really pins down definitions of either. Instead it cites the hoary old chestnuts of Apple (Steve Jobs is a saint according to some business gurus), Proctor and Gamble (a company so large that it can borrow cheaper than most governments, and as such far from typical of the companies that most will work in), the inevitable bit of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz (taken out of context) and Napoleon.

To this the author adds a trite classification of business leaders into “tigers” or “elephants.” He goes on to develop a psychometric classification process that is as rich in catch phrases and jargon as it is devoid of insight, unless you consider sentences like “Good strategy means being choiceful about taking risk – its about taking the right risk” as anything more than a badly written statement of the obvious. (No, “choiceful” is not a word in my spell checker or any dictionary that I can find). And so it goes on. And on. And on.

The text is peppered with quotes from other business authors (many of them also from Ashbridge) which lead the author to also develop a theory of Creative Juxtaposition, whatever that means. Almost all the case studies I had read before, in more depth and with better explanatory context. Jargon aside, there is nothing new in this book, as the author actually admits in the penultimate paragraph. The cobbling together of other people’s ideas is neither compelling, necessary nor instructive. If this book is representative of Ashbridge – and that seems to be the intent – then it’s a spectacular own goal.

On the ARRSE site (where this review first appeared – it is reposted here with their kind permission) i had to rate it 1/5 as ARRSE has no facility for giving a rating lower than that.  On this blog there is no such problem.  It scores a big fat zero.

BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

Drones have become and integral part of warfare in much the same way as a mobile phone has become a fundamental platform of modern life.  Both technologies emerged in the late 1980s, and both have advanced astonishingly quickly.  The reason for the rapid development of mobile phones is simple; money. The smartphone industry spent US$150 billion on R&D in 2014. The Pentagon spent US$60 billion on all its research programmes combined. This is possible because of the economies of scale and the exploitation of free market economics.  Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Swarm Troopers by David Hambling

BOOK REVIEW: The Game’s Afoot by Richard Foreman

The build up to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 has plenty of ingredients for a compelling novel. Whether it is the insecurity of Henry V’s throne as various rivals from his father’s usurping of Richard II trying to regain power, irate Welshmen seeking to reinstate Glendower, stroppy Scots or the French trying to avert Henry’s well publicised intention of restoring the cross channel part of his realm there are complexities and themes available that make modern wars seem trivially simple. Add in the mythical prowess of the longbow, the power of the church, feudal complexity and mediaeval gallantry and producing a compelling tale should be a cinch.

Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: The Game’s Afoot by Richard Foreman

Book Review – Brutus by Kirsty Corrigan

Until Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 Brutus was the most famous assassin in the world. The consequences of his action on the Ides (15th) March 43 BC were almost as serious and yet there are relatively few biographies of him. This book seeks to fill the void, and it’s quite a tale. Continue reading Book Review – Brutus by Kirsty Corrigan

BOOK REVIEW: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

This month marks the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt and a flurry of books are being published to celebrate the occasion.

Henry V inherited the throne of England, which at that time included Wales, Calais and a substantial chunk of South West France, from his father (Henry IV) in 1413.  His father had usurped Richard II and England was still recovering from the split.  As Prince of Wales Henry had already been thoroughly tested in combat, having defeated the Welsh uprising of Owen Glendower, and in peace making.  He was a just, pious and popular monarch.  With England united, his attention turned to recovering the rest of his realm, which at one time had contained Normandy, Brittany and much more of South West France.

In the 15th Century world God was at the centre of everything, including justice.  Wars were believed to be an extreme form of trial by combat and God would deliver victory to the righteous.  The lost lands in France belonged to the English king, himself ordained by God, and thus a war to regain them would be righteous.  Provided it was righteously conducted Henry would prevail.  He therefore went to great lengths to explain his cause and request immediate return of his lands.  Unsurprisingly the French monarchs rejected his claim and the stage was set for war.

Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

BOOK REVIEW: The Outsider by Frederick Forsyth

The first questions on opening an autobiography are usually “did this person have an interesting life” and “can he (or she) write?” With the subject and author being Frederick Forsyth the answer is clearly a resounding yes so I plunged in with great anticipation.

As Forsyth notes in the introduction, this is not a conventional autobiography. Rather than a chronological narration of every stage of his life, the author has opted for a series of recollections which are delivered in pretty much chronological order. This approach has the benefit of producing a much crisper narrative than would be the case if, for example, he recounted every part of his life at school. We get what he thinks is the important stuff, undiluted by the drudgery of the mundane. If it’s on the page, it’s worth reading. This also suits the authors style, honed as a journalist and refined as a thriller writer resulting in a fast pace. Fittingly for the author of the Day of The Jackal, this reads more as a thriller than an autobiography. And it’s a ripping yarn.
Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: The Outsider by Frederick Forsyth

The Cooler King by Patrick Bishop

Thanks to the film The Great Escape becoming a Christmas TV staple Steve McQueen’s character “The Cooler King” has probably become one of the most famous movie figures from world war two. Most viewers are aware that the film is a fictionalised amalgam of several true stories. This excellent book tells the tale of William Ash, whose escapades and repeat escape attempts as a POW in Stalag Luft 3 and elsewhere earnt him an awful lot of time in solitary confinement.

The book is impressively researched, which is unsurprising given its authors record. What is a delight that, in what is essentially a work of non-fiction where we know the outcome, he manages to maintain tension and build excitement throughout. It is very well written. Continue reading The Cooler King by Patrick Bishop