Book Reviews

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The KnackThe Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up
Authors: Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham

Publisher: Portfolio, October 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-591842-21-7
Pages: 256

How can receivables help you survive today’s credit crisis? Why is it better to have many small customers rather than fewer larger ones? How do small-business owners retain customers when the competition cut their prices? Is a sales mentality dangerous for business? Answers to these and several other questions that small-business entrepreneurs might encounter are available in The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up. Written by Inc. magazine’s “Street Smarts” columnists Bo Burlingham and Norm Brodsky, this thoughtful and informative guide is filled with common sense advice for anyone interested in starting, expanding or saving a business.

“A lot of people starting out in business would prefer to have a step-by-step formula or a specific set of rules they could use to achieve their goals. The problem is, there aren’t any. Rather, there’s a way of thinking that allows someone to deal with many different situations and take advantage of many different opportunities as they arise.” In other words, there are no magic bullets in business. This is the basic belief that the hugely popular columnists set out to show in The Knack. Instead of a magic solution, for veteran entrepreneur Norm Brodsky there’s a mentality that helps street-smart people solve problems and pursue opportunities as they arise. He refers to it as “the knack” and it has made all the difference to the eight successful startups of his career.

According to Brodsky, it boils down to a set of mental habits than can be applied to a wide variety of situations. Some of these are learned in childhood and others are picked up. Most are developed by making mistakes, falling down, picking ourselves up and figuring out how not to do it again. Brodsky and Burlingham explore this idea with stories about real companies facing challenges and show readers how to apply “the knack” to attain their own success. In a conversational style, the authors offer guidance on such issues as raising capital, negotiating deals, maintaining relationships with financial institutions and strengthening customer relations. The book also includes questions and answers from their columns, which provide valuable insights from a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs.

Essential advice such as:
Follow the numbers — it’s the best way to spot problems before they become life threatening;
Keep focusing on your real goal;
Don’t get so close to the problem that you lose all perspective;
Salespeople are your representatives in the marketplace. Choose those who will represent you well;
You have no friends in business, only associates.

Practical and easy to read, The Knack offers those with entrepreneurial dreams clear, street-smart advice on how to deal with sticky business situations.

Reviewed by Janelle Gordon

 

The Hemingses of MonticelloThe Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
By Annette Gordon-Reed

W. W. Norton & Company, September 2008
800 pp., $35

In this 2008 National Book Award-winning biography, historian Annette Gordon-Reed mines the family tree of Sally Hemings, the enslaved mistress of Thomas Jefferson and mother of his mixed-race children, to bring forth a fascinating portrait of members of the Hemings family during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in Virginia and in Paris. Gordon-Reed “wrote and researched for about eight years” to “[open] the world of the other members of this family — to see how those particular African-Americans made their way through slavery in America.” Gordon-Reed not only reminds readers of the elements that fostered the slave system, she also gives a perspective, through her captivating narrative, of one family’s struggle for independence and recognition.

 

The Ties that BindThe Ties That Bind: A Memoir of Race, Memory, and Redemption
By Bertice Berry
Broadway Books, February 2009
240 pp., $23.95

Novelist and inspirational speaker Bertice Berry knows how to tell a story. And in The Ties That Bind, her eighth book, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and begins her story with her family’s history from slavery in the mid-1800s, and carries us through the Black Power Movement of the ’70s to the present day.
In her usual straightforward manner, Berry commences  unraveling the history of her family with her mother’s “re-memory” of her great-grandfather’s stories during slavery. But as Berry states in her introduction, about writing this book: “There are times when history needs to be rewritten; this is a time, however, when it needs to be reexamined.”             

Reviewed by Clarence V. Reynolds