Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

September 7, 2019

“Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” (2016) by comedian Trevor Noah is a series of autobiographical essays about growing up in South Africa, the product of an illegal relationship between a white man and a black woman, according to the 1927 Immorality Act. Personal stories alternate with essays about apartheid and institutionalized racism.

Noah reflects on the women holding the community together, language defining who you are to people, personal identity, choosing the people in your life, and growing up with domestic violence.

“The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other… You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.”

Noah was born in 1984 in Eden Park, a suburb outside Johannesburg, his childhood filled with church, no TV/movies, riots in the streets, violence, militarized streets, guns, and tear gas. There was sharp divide between black, white, and colored, and Noah seemed to drift along the edges of all these communities, tolerated because he learned to speak their languages.

He was raised by Patricia Nombuyielo Noah, a religious black mother who wanted someone to love and was determined to make a better life for her son – but who couldn’t walk in the street holding his hand.

“I’ve got dozens of pictures of me walking with this woman who looks like me but who isn’t my mother. And the black woman standing behind us who looks like she’s photobombing the picture, that’s my mom.” She was a rebel who challenged authority and refused to conform, running away from home and living in the streets as a young woman. She taught Trevor to think and prepared him for a life of freedom even before the end of apartheid.

His father Robert was secretive and reserved, a Swiss ex-pat who wanted to be a part of his life, but couldn’t be seen in public with him either. When Noah reunites with his father after years apart, he learns “But he’d been with me the whole time.” His parents’ stable influence is juxtaposed with the attitude and actions of his stepfather Abel, a talented mechanic who could be charming, but who drank too much and became mean and violent – and who later shot his mother in the head.

Noah grew into a mischievous, house-burning (at age 7, he burned down a white family’s shed and house by accident!), head-strong, bootleg CD-burning businessman, who was able to stay away from drugs and gangs. “I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new.”

“Born a Crime” is a really engaging and perceptive book that kept me reading. The humorous and optimistic tone prevents the book from being depressing and bleak. It showed me a world of poverty (no bathrooms, a poor person’s food of worms, lack of opportunities) and uncertainty (minibus drivers, gangs, police).

Though he lived in poverty, he says, “I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience.”


“Kapunahou” by James Koshiba

August 3, 2019

“Kapunahou: In Celebration of the One Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the 1841 Founding of Punahou School” (2016) by James Koshiba et al. is a commemorative coffee table book about the founding and legacy of Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. It features beautiful photographs of the Punahou campus by Linny Morris, as well as historic paintings and illustrations, essays, and reflections.

The book celebrates Punahou’s early history as “an adobe-and-thatch school house” in 1841 to the largest single-campus independent K-12 school in the United States. There is a strong sense of history, accomplishments, and an enduring loyalty to the school.

Punahou’s achievements are built on two historic gifts, president James Scott (class of 1970) writes: “the gift of land from Hawaiian ali‘i and the gift of an educational vision from Protestant missionaries.”

Here’s a fun fact: In those early years, tuition was $12 per semester (3 semesters in a school year).

There are five sections: leadership, public purpose, a school of the islands, global learning, and inventing the future.  But I believe that public purpose is at the core of Punahou.

Public service is woven throughout Punahou’s curriculum and instruction. “This approach is not only about instilling caring and compassion in students,” writes Mary Vorsino, “it’s about urgently seeking for solutions to society’s biggest challenges.”

From this public purpose, all other aspects of the school become clear.

Punahou’s leaders are committed to professional development and believe that “renewal is essential to excellence.” Teachers have the opportunity to take sabbaticals to develop their knowledge and improve their skills. Leaders and teachers have “opportunities to learn both with and from those served,” says James Koshiba (1991).

For students, textbook-learning is just the starting point – “global awareness is an attitude – it’s about how you think,” declares Sara Lin (1999). The Wo International Center and Luke Center for Chinese Studies reinforce connections and responsibility to the global community.

Graduates serve as leaders in government, business, technology, athletics, and exploration, from US Representative Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole (1889) to US President Barack Obama (1979)… from Alexander & Baldwin co-founder Samuel Alexander (1842-1860) to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (1984)… from LPGA tournament champion Michelle Wie (2007) to world champion surfer Carissa Moore (2010)… from explorer Hiram Bingham III (1892) to astronaut Lacy Veach (1962) and navigator Nainoa Thompson (1972).

The weight of Punahou School’s legacy is inspiring and a little intimidating.

“Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss

July 6, 2019

I never thought about negotiation as both a form of empathy and a martial art, but that’s exactly how former FBI hostage negotiator and founder of the consulting firm, The Black Swan Group, Chris Voss views negotiation.

In his book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” (2016), written with Tahl Raz, journalist and management coach, Voss reveals practical tips for negotiating in an emotional crisis. The key to successful negotiations, he believes, is that you should never settle. Always pursue your ultimate goal.

Voss describes how to use “tactical empathy,” or “listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person.” Tactical empathy is especially crucial in a “black swan” situation, “an event or piece of knowledge outside our regular expectations and that cannot be predicted.”

Practical, honest, and filled with personal experiences from real life-and-death situations, “Never Split the Difference” makes our personal negotiations seem less critical. The mindset for successful negotiations is deceptively simple: 1) treat people the way they need to be treated, not the way you want to be treated; 2) keep calm and rational; and 3) ask questions that give your counterpart the burden of finding a solution.

Here are Voss’ 8 strategies for a successful negotiation:

  1. Be a mirror. Identify what your counterparts actually need and get them feeling safe enough to talk about what they want. Mirror them by repeating the last few words that they say, showing that you are listening.
  2. Label emotions. Acknowledge your counterpart’s emotions and show you identify with how they feel. How to do this: Say things like “It looks like you want to/don’t want to…” or “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…”
  3. Do an accusation audit. Acknowledge your counterpart’s fears. Before the negotiation or meeting, brainstorm all of the things they might say, and write out your responses. For example, “It seems like you want/don’t want…”
  4. See “No” as the start of a negotiation. If you give your counterpart the chance to say “no,” they will feel more in control and less anxious. Start with “no-oriented setup questions, like “Do you want to cancel the project?” Then ask “What would you need to make it work?”
  5. Get to “That’s Right.” The turning point is when your counterpart agrees with you, without the feeling of having given in. If they say, “You’re right,” then you still have work to do.
  6. Don’t compromise. No deal is better than a bad deal. Set yourself up as an honest negotiator, and remember that “fairness” is an emotional concept. How to do this: “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. Please stop me at any time if you feel I am being unfair, and we’ll address it.”
  7. Ask calibrated questions that invite solutions. Don’t ask “Why?” Instead, ask “How can we solve this problem?”
  8. Involve all decision-makers. Make sure that everyone supports the negotiation, not just the people at the negotiating table. Ask questions like “How does this affect everybody else?” or “How on-board is the rest of your team?”

One of the best tips I learned is how to talk to someone on the phone. Voss suggests asking, “Is now a bad time to talk?” so that the conversation can start with “no.” When you ask,“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” it’s much harder to get that first “yes.”

Do you consider yourself a good negotiator? What negotiations stand out for you? What are your best negotiating tips or stories?

“The Travelling Cat Chronicles” by Hiro Arikawa

June 1, 2019

Our cat Oscar wasn’t much of an adventurer. He was more of a hide-and-stalk kind of cat. Through he flew in an airplane to get to Hawaii, his short time in quarantine made him stick close to us when we brought him home. I remember how he bravely ventured outside one day, and climbed up on a rock to look down on the yard.

I thought of Oscar when I read “The Travelling Cat Chronicles” (2012) by Hiro Arikawa, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel. It’s a humorous and poignant story about friendship, appreciating the good in life, finding where you belong, and celebrating love.

Nana, an intelligent and mannered stray cat, is adopted by Satoru. They recognize their good fortune in finding each other. Through Nana, we watch Satoru’s life unfold through visits with childhood friends and a reunion with his aunt as he searches for a new home for his beloved Nana.

Cheerful, friendly, optimistic Satoru sees his life as full of love and appreciates everything he has. Through Satoru, we come to see that we cannot change our circumstances, but we can change how we react to them. And through Nana, we come to see how one generous, kind person can impact others.

It is beautifully written, with charming, delicate illustrations, and it made me cry.

“Our last journey,” Satoru tells Nana, “let’s see all kinds of amazing things, let’s spend our time taking in as many wonderful sights as we can.”

The story is a celebration of a man’s life– and a reminder to appreciate the open-hearted people in our own lives. You may cry too.

“Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh

May 4, 2019

“Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened” (2013) has an intriguing title and eye-catching cover art. And Microsoft founder Bill Gates put it on his reading list. I plunged into blogger Allie Brosh’s life, as she explains depression in a way that everyone can understand and relate to.

“Hyperbole and a Half” is a collection of autobiographical essays with new material and selections from her Hyperbole and a Half blog. The essays are colorful and humorous, illustrated with simple and expressive drawings. The chapters are color-coded and talk honestly about living with depression, and there is some swearing (kids, skip those sections). The book itself is heavy, printed on thick paper, as if to counter-balance some of Brosh’s irreverent humor.

Here are 10 thought-provoking things that Brosh taught me:

  1. If time travel is possible, Brosh’s 10-year old self would already have proof of it.
  2. We love dogs for who they are, not for what they can do.
  3. Find what motivates you in life (like cake) and pursue it.
  4. You can’t will yourself not to be sad or depressed. In a strange way, apathy can be a temporary superpower – you start to feel invincible because you stop caring about society’s expectations.
  5. The need for parental approval can spiral out of control – and may lead you to eat 6 spoonfuls of hot sauce. Don’t eat the hot sauce!
  6. Have you ever exceeded your capacity for responsibility? You are not alone.
  7. Geese are descendents of dinosaurs.
  8. Sometimes we try hard to be people we are not.
  9. Advice for dogs: most of the things you know are wrong, and most of the decisions you make are bad.
  10. There are times we feel good about ourselves for thinking we might do good things and for stopping ourselves from doing bad things.

Brosh reminds us that being healthy is more than physical well-being, it’s also mental well-being. Read Brosh’s blog at

Remember that humor, social connections, animal friendships, and a good work-life balance are important for everyone.

“With Obligation to All” by George Ariyoshi

April 6, 2019

We met Governor Ariyoshi for the first time in 2018 at the Hawaii State Capitol, where he is still involved with student leaders and the “Hawaii: The Next 50 Years” contest. He ate lunch surrounded by students, graciously dedicated his book to each of the youth, and posed for pictures with them.

George R. Ariyoshi (Governor of Hawaii, 1974-1986) was the first governor of Japanese ancestry in the United States. His memoir, “With Obligation to All” (1997), was inspired by the birth of his grandson Sky and was written “to reveal the political story of contemporary Hawaii in terms which may be useful in the future.”

Ariyoshi was born in 1926, the first of six children with an entrepreneurial father and an optimistic mother. His parents’ idea of opportunity was “the opportunity to work hard, be free to improve their lot in life, and raise a family.” He overcame a childhood speech defect (a lisp), remembers an influential teacher Margaret Hamada, and admires an influential principal Dr. Miles Cary at McKinley High School. He was drafted into the Military Intelligence Service language school at Fort Snelling, stationed in Tokyo, and attended Michigan State in East Lansing.

His politics reflected the “passionate liberalism of the postwar Democratic Party” and the strong value system of Japanese immigrant parents, and a legacy of “a new public ethic of equal opportunity, replacing the old system of special privilege.”

“I am a social liberal and fiscal conservative,” he declares. In 1954, at age 28, his childhood friend Tom Ebesu and Democratic Party chairman Jack Burns encouraged him to enter politics, running on a platform of opportunity and equality. He encountered partisanship and factions, but stuck to his principles of opportunity and supporting people on their merits. He was mentored by Governor John A. Burns, who gave him the opportunity to lead and helped him stand on his own; and his father Ryozo Ariyoshi. In the 1970s he was faced with the challenge of using resources wisely, faced with immigration and an overburdened welfare system.

Gracious, forward-thinking, humble, and private, Ariyoshi emphasizes four values in politics and life:

  • Otagai (mutual obligation). “What you knew to be right came from within, yet it was intertwined with the individual doing right in the eyes of others.” To Ariyoshi, obligation meant “To be involved with the entire spectrum of the community, to make commitments, and to take risks in service to the long view of history.”
  • Equality. “In my role as the first governor of Japanese and non-white ancestry, I felt it was my duty to speak candidly about my roots, and to be accepting of myself, in order to encourage others to be accepting of themselves.”
  • Kodomo no tame ni (for the sake of the children). Ariyoshi took the value of stewardship seriously, believing in “the long-term use of resources, and not in terms of conservation for its own sake.”
  • Okage sama de (we are what we are because of one another). “Everything starts with the family, with those closest to you.”

He tells future leaders, “People look for values, belief, and commitment. As a leader, your job is to encourage people, not control them. Treat people with dignity and trust them to do their jobs.”

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

March 2, 2019

Many companies are doing business backwards, challenges leadership and organization consultant Simon Sinek. They’re telling us WHAT they do – what the product does, what services are available, what’s new – but what’s really important is WHY they are doing what they do.

And many leaders are leading companies backwards, too – stressing WHAT companies do best, instead of WHY employees should work there.

“Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” (2009) reveals how we can be great leaders both personally and as businesses. The central idea is that great leaders and great companies are able to inspire people who want to take action – whether it’s buying a product or working for a company.

Great leaders give people a sense of purpose or belonging, understanding the value in the things we cannot see.

Articulating WHY. “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” If we start with WHY, we will understand how to do business and what to do. Sinek discusses how businesses manipulate our buying behavior, but these tactics are only effective for individual transactions; they do not create brand loyalty. “Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you,” Sinek clarifies. And to create brand loyalty, you need to communicate why you’re in business.

Sinek offers some examples of WHY. Apple empowers the individual spirit. Disney promotes good, clean family fun. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in equality and how we treat people.

Hiring for WHY. “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” Sinek voices something we don’t usually put into words: We want to do business with people who believe what we believe. “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

Staying true to WHY. “The single greatest challenge any organization will face is… success.” It’s easy to lose focus of WHY and start focusing on WHAT. We need to measure success in a way that is true to our WHY, not just products sold or contracts signed. For example, Christina Harbridge founded collection agency Bridgeport Financial based on treating people with compassion, and bonuses are given based not on collections, but on how many “thank you” cards agents send to clients.

Trust matters. When we trust the culture or organization, we are willing to take risks to advance the culture or organization as a whole.  Clarity of purpose makes people take action for themselves. “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder.”

The importance of WHY we do things and finding our purpose resonates with me. I want to do work that is meaningful and work with people who believe in the same values. And I want to invite others to share in that purpose.

What is your WHY at work? Does your company’s purpose inspire you to take action? What is your WHY in life?