Just the good stuff

The next right thing.

This is a review of Axios’ Jim VandeHei’s latest book of the above name. The prologue suggests reading the book a chapter or two at a time. I chose to read it cover-cover for my first round. Jim has structured this memoir quite like a daily reminder of the important or impactful stuff. Such a daily read can allow the topic to percolate through one’s day, changing and shaping a personal mental model of life.

The book doesn’t just instruct/teach/preach but goes beyond and weaves his own life and work stories. And that’s what sets this book apart.

Jim’s other book, Smart Brevity, documents a method of telling a story for quick yet greatest impact. This well-rehearsed approach formats each chapter in Just the Good Stuff and enables quick read. The stories snap back and forth through his early years growing up, Politico, Axios and other instances.

The chapters are independently complete, yet thread quite eastly when viewed at their macro level. Bulleted ideas to consider complete chapters that begin with an aphorism or a story from his life. Unlike aphorism-heavy books, however, the accompanying stories make a greater impact.

Though I will take another run through the book, this time a chapter or two at a time, I came away with some of his impactful stories. I’ve repeated the ‘…the next best right thing’ mantra more than once since reading the book. And the story he tells of his niece’s note is incredible.

Axios readers will be familiar with many characters from the book (Mike!) and it was good to hear some of their backstories without the book being a memoir for Axios or Politico. This is apparently a telling of Jim’s memories, so I chose to see the stories as supporting cast for the message in the chapter.

Good book, quick read, and thanks to the publisher for the ARC. I kept one of the stars because the book comes at a time when bro-code newsletters are all the rage and the messages within echo those in many newsletters curated by the male influencers producing similar YouTube and newsletter content.

I may need to update my review after a few months of daily reading.

City of Intellect

City of Intellect: The Uses and Abuses of the University by Nicholas B. Dirks

I picked up this book upon a recommendation and review by Reid Hoffman in his Long Reids blog. Part memoir, part history, and part instruction, this recent book is a good read for those engaged in a university’s administration, governance, or strategic shifts.

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The book and its discussion of the university’s legacy, centuries rather than decades old, and its struggle to evolve is as detailed as it is sometimes disappointing to read. The book begins as a memoir reflected in the way the pages progress, highlighting the author’s employment and administration at institutions such as Columbia and Berkley. It shifts, midway, to the history of the university, telling the story of the university’s formation, its jump across the Atlantic to the US, and continued evolution. Understanding the social, political and financial pressures the book shifts and ends with instructive contemplation.

I found the memoir portion segmented well across the author’s CV, but a bit long. Had Reid Hoffman’s blog not led me to a commitment to read the entire book, I very well might have abandoned it.

When the author shifted, however, to a Genealogy of the University about half-way through the book, I was mesmerized. This part is beautifully told, with the full value of the author’s experience in anthropology and administration.

The final third of the book provided contemplative (not directive) instruction for university and college administrators, faculty, and trustees to withstand the onslaught of politics and social pressures on the university.

The warnings are omnipresent in the book – the university will and must change, with or without the countering forces from seemingly the greatest opposers- faculty. And for all of their bluster, if American politicians truly care about the century of advances brought through higher education across America, then they must redefine their relationship with the university of tomorrow.

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