Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Local, by Paul Jennings

The Local: A History of the English Pub, by Paul Jennings

My good friends the PubGuys mentioned this book in one of their daily updates and I thought it looked interesting. It certainly was, although it was typically British—dry, dry, dry. Jennings traces the history of the English pub from the 1700’s to today. A heavy emphasis on statistics makes some passages a bit difficult to slog through; a typical example reads, “A parliamentary return of 1839 showed that 43 per cent of beerhouses were rated at under £10, including 10.1 per cent under £5, and 23.8 per cent at over £15. By 1853 whereas 21.1 per cent were now rated at under £10, 54.7 per cent were now at or above £15.” As dry as the text was, the pictures and illustrations were fantastic! In fact, I dearly wanted to see more. Floor plans of drinking establishments through the centuries were the most fascinating, showing the gradual change from separate rooms for the bar and taps and dining to the more gradual communal space we recognize now.

I was amazed to find that before the World Wars, the temperance movement and government licensing nearly killed the pub, an establishment I’ve always considered idiosyncratic to the British lifestyle. “Having begun the war as the supreme threat to the nation’s survival, drink ended it as a support to morale whose supplies government was keen to maintain.” That said, the conclusion was somewhat surprising to me: “the pub today has a smaller role [in society] that it ever did.” The acceptance of women into pubs starting with the late nineteenth century has offset the rise of drinking at home, but the scene is fragmenting with the rise of food and music establishments and corporate ownership. Older and rural pubs are closing as well; in 1991 in only 205 pubs in the entire UK were found to have historical importance—a staggering difference when compared to churches and other English institutions.

While the pub may be flagging overseas, I’m very glad to report that I at least am doing what I can to keep my locals, places like The Dig Pub and B. B. Rovers (not your typical pretentious American bars) going strongly!

First Sentence:
What is a pub?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima

What can we learn from the failure of other leaders? This is an interesting question, and at times the authors do a good job of discussing it. The dark side refers to motivations and dysfunctions that cause us to succeed or fail. Many motivations can be positive, but then turn negative when taken to extremes. For instance, a tendency to perfectionism can be a great driver for success, but if allowed to dominate it can lead towards needing absolute control of everything and everyone. Leadership requires passion (“If you did the job to just get by, you would eventually pay for it.”), but an excess of passion leads to zealotry which dramatically reduces your scope of influence. Learning to recognize and harness these potentially harmful traits is a good exercise in self-reflection and humility.

Unfortunately (for me, anyway), the context of the discussion is almost entirely religious, and leads to untenable conclusions for my worldview such as, “It is through this process of learning about ourselves and progressively dealing with our dark side that we avoid its destructive paradox and allow God to exercise more control over our leadership.” Becoming an effective leader is my goal, not becoming a pious one. The entire book isn’t a loss, though; while overly preachy, using scriptural references as examples is often fairly effective in several places: Moses is described as a compulsive leader and shown to be status conscious and judgmental; Solomon is a narcissistic leader who overestimates his own achievements while minimizing others.

Overall there are some useful lessons here, but I found myself rolling my eyes entirely too often to actually recommend this. “We gave found an annual performance review to be not only challenging but also extremely encouraging and humbling as we see the ways God is effectively using us.” A similar take on this subject which I will recommend, especially when it comes to identifying types of leaders, is John Hoover’s How To Work For An Idiot.

First Sentence:
Like water exploding from behind a broken dam the words gushed out, laced with a frightening combination of anger and bitterness, “I quit!”

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