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John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A review

I read the entirety of John Bolton’s vast tome, The Room Where It Happened, so you don’t have to. Because you probably won’t want to read the whole thing. I’ll tell you where the highlights are. I haven’t been this tired after reading a book since reading the CISSP Common Book of Knowledge (which is as bad as it sounds) or the Christian Bible (which goes without saying). A political book doesn’t belong in the same league as those two.

The Room Where It Happened is not a tell-all book. It’s about two parts memoir and one part manifesto, and it’s John Bolton’s story, which just happens to include a lot about his boss.

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The best business book I\’ve ever read

I just finished reading Start Small, Finish Big by Fred DeLuca.

What I like most about it is that it doesn’t expect you to quit your job, it doesn’t assume you’ve already started a million businesses before (why would you need the book if you had?), and it doesn’t get bogged down in frustrating details.

What’s he mean by start small? Initial investments of no more than $5,000 and often much, much less, that’s what. What’s he mean by finish big? Read on.Fred DeLuca was a poor kid, living in public housing, who wanted to go to college. His dad happened to have a friend named Pete who had some money, so he asked Pete what the best way would be to pay for college, since he couldn’t think of anyone else to ask. Pete loaned him $1,000 and told him to start a sandwich shop. You’ve probably eaten there. It was called Subway.

LeDuca spends the book walking through 15 things he learned over the course of running Subway. He pulls in his own experience, as well as the experience of 14 other business owners.

One of those other owners is Paul Orfalea, a guy who barely made it through college and the only skill he had was making copies. Since he couldn’t think of anything better to do with his life, he borrowed some money and bought a photocopier. His nickname was Kinko. You’ve probably used one of his photocopiers too.

If you don’t have any ideas, this book can help you find one. If you don’t have any money, this book can help you find some. Really–there are 13 pages in the back listing organizations in every state that help small businesses get off the ground with small low-interest loans and coaching.

The book is down to earth and, at times, funny. At least I found it funny when one would-be entrepreneur pitched her idea for a consignment shop to her mother, only to be rebuked with, “That sounds like Sanford and Son. I don’t want to sell used furniture.”

OK, maybe you’ll at least agree with me that it’s down to earth?

A lot of books tell you to get a lawyer and/or draw up a business plan as a first step. DeLuca would rather see you grab a plastic bag and go hunting for aluminum cans to recycle–the only way to learn to make a lot of money is to start by making a little money, and there’s no risk involved in collecting aluminum cans. (I think it does some other positive things to you as well.)

Before I read this book, I pretty much thought the American Dream was dead. So for me, this book was 15 strong arguments why I was wrong. According to DeLuca, you don’t have to be the first guy with an idea–it helps to be early, but that’s not even strictly necessary–and you don’t necessarily have to be the best, and you don’t even have to be the cheapest.

If running your own business has the least bit of appeal to you, this is a good book for you to read.

Date or Soul Mate… reviewed.

Date or Soul Mate? How to Know if Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less seems like it has as many homework assignments per page as my college algebra textbook did. I’d verify that, but the bookstore was offering $15 for that textbook and I didn’t ever want to touch it again. So I guess selling my college algebra book paid for this one, nine years later.
It was a really good trade, in case you’re wondering.

Even though it’s a lot of work, and if you’re lazy you shouldn’t touch it, the work is extremely worthwhile. Author Neil Clark Warren has been married forty years. That’s good and bad. I want to be married 40 years, or preferably more, and he has some ideas how he stumbled into such a great marriage. So that’s good. The bad side is, well, it took me a lot less than 7 1/2 months to forget what it’s like to be single and unattached, so I can only imagine what he’s forgotten in 40 years.

He does know one thing. He does know the desperation one starts to feel after a while–the desperation to date the first willing and available candidate that passes your way. And then to hold onto it even if there are indications it’s not a very good match because there are no other prospects around, or there’s no easy indication that any of those prospects would be any better, and starting over is a lot of work, so it’s easier to fix the relationship you have. Not to mention there’s the risk that you’ll break it off and then your prospect will say no, leaving you all alone again.

I’m still trying to figure out where that feeling went after I read the first chapter. Somehow the book put my mind at ease, which, if you ask any of my friends, is a big accomplishment.

The first assignment is to answer 20 questions about yourself. They’re probing questions. It took me at least an hour to answer them, even though I’ve answered some of the exact same questions at least a half-dozen times in the past year. A later assignment is to trace your family tree as far back as you can. But you have to write down everything you know or can remember about each relative. Yet another assignment is to write your own autobiography, in 5-year increments.

That’s just in the first 38 pages.

But the book has a major disappointment in it as well. Chapter 9 talks about a test that assesses your qualities. The basic idea is that you need to figure out what you’re worth, assign a numerical score to it, then go find someone whose worth is within 50 points or so of your own. He talks about a couple he counseled. The man scored 650, and his fiancee scored 825. He was thrilled that he was landing someone out of his league. But the downside is insecurity. Eventually she’s going to meet some men who score in the 800s. She’s going to feel some attraction towards them. So then what?

Warren points out that people frequently overvalue some of their qualities and undervalue others. This got me excited, because I’ve probably been guilty of both. I’ve often felt, while engaging in the dating game, like a tourist in a foreign country. I have money and I see the prices, but while I know the value of a dollar, I don’t know much about the value of a euro. And when I have dollars in my wallet but the price is in euros, it’s harder to know a good deal when I see one.

In my last relationship, I know she undervalued herself a good portion of the time. I’m pretty sure she overvalued me, but I have no idea by how much. I know I undervalued myself, largely on the basis that she never has much trouble finding dates and I’ve sometimes gone years between dates. Was I overvaluing her? If she’s a 650 and I’m an 825, then I have a lot to be excited about because I have a great future ahead, because there were a lot of things about her that were, well, great or very close to it. And if she’s a 750 and I’m an 800, then I know we were a good match that just didn’t work because we didn’t have enough in common.

But the test isn’t anywhere in the book. As far as I can tell, it’s in another book by the same author titled Finding the Love of Your Life. That’s frustrating. I understand why–my own book had a chapter in it that was similar to a chapter in another book by the same publisher, and my editor didn’t like it at first. But the context was slightly different, and the book was clearly missing something without it. Why should I make the reader pay $20 for another book to get information I just told him or her was necessary? I stuck to my guns and the chapter went in.

That said, the book had a lot of practical advice. I felt better after reading it because I found I instinctively do an awful lot of the right things, especially as far as the kind of person to be. But one thing I immediately took from it is that I really need to make more of an effort to shave every day and be better about getting my hair cut every six weeks, and to dress a little bit nicer. I’m frequently told that I clean up nice. But when I’m trying to get away with shaving every other day and pushing my haircuts for eight weeks instead of six, I may not draw that second look, so someone could easily overlook the things that matter more.

It says a lot that my outlook on relationships increased dramatically after reading this book. The first few days and weeks after breaking up are a roller coaster anyway, and that probably has something to do with it, but there’s some substance behind this high. The book helped me objectively evaluate where I’ve been. I can see that I’m not coming out of the best relationship that ever existed. I knew for a long time that it had problems. I know now that it would have taken some work to find out if they could be fixed. I can take that knowledge I gleaned from the book, and I can sleep knowing that I wasn’t the one who gave up, that I would have been willing to do the work. I can combine that with something else I learned from the book: There are women who will really value a man who’s willing to work that much, who’s willing to make them that important.

There are no guarantees that the next date will be better than my last, but I would say I like my prospects for my next relationship after reading this.

It also says something that I was able to read the book in just a few hours. I’m a fast reader, but this book is pretty light reading.

There are some books that you pick up looking for empathy. This book isn’t one of them. The author isn’t shy about his PhD and his 35+ years of practice as a psychologist and he works from the assumption that the reader has no particular expertise in the area. And at times he’s blunt. This is a book you pick up looking for solutions. To be blunt, if you’re looking to get happily married and minimize the amount of time and money you waste on dates and dead-end relationships, this is a good book to read. (Note to whoever may be reading this and take offense: I didn’t say my past relationships were dead ends, OK?)

This book isn’t a home run, and it’s absolutely not a timeless classic. What’s frustrating about it is that with the addition of that test mentioned in chapter 9, it might have been. But what I will say in this book’s favor is that there probably isn’t any single relationship book that will answer everybody’s questions. Any given person will probably need to read two or three or four of them, at least. And this book, in spite of its big gaping hole, ought to be one of them.