Startup, by Doree Shafrir (Little, Brown, and Company, 2017)


Startup grabs you from the very first pages. Like Douglas Coupland, Doree Shafrir socks you with cultural reference after cultural reference. The book is absolutely up to the minute. Her characters don’t take taxis; they use Uber. They don’t send texts or use Messenger; they use Slack and Snapchat. It’s actually quite impressive that she has captured 2017 so well in novel form, with a cast of mostly millennials that seem pretty real and startups developing apps that are plausibly ridiculous.

The novel revolves around a startup whose founder is trying to make it into a billion dollar company and a tech website whose reporters are eager to take him down. As the lives of these characters – who are only vaguely related at the beginning – become more entwined, the women in the novel take it into their hands to destroy the men. As an office romance falls apart, Mack McAllister gets desperate and sends a few drunken messages to his ex, an employee. These are seen – in an almost Thomas Hardy-esque situation – by Katya, a reporter for TechScene.

Startup is in many respects a really good novel, but it is also a clumsy feminist take-down of tech culture wherein all the male characters are archetypal scumbags and the women – who invariably have more depth – are eventually willing to draw upon all their strength to punish the men for their mistakes. It makes the book seem to lack depth, heart, and restraint at points. Towards the end, there is too much half-witted philosophizing and the book falls apart a bit.

Still, politics aside, Shafrir’s book is mostly enjoyable and makes for a solid summer read.

The Business Traveler’s Guide To Southeast Asia

The Business Traveler’s Guide To Southeast Asia: smart tips from a seasoned international warrior, by Colin Restall (The Colville Publishing Company, 2017)


Colin Restall is a businessman with twenty years’ experience in Southeast Asia, and in this ebook he shares his insight into some of the countries with which he’s most familiar. In addition to the geographically located Southeast Asian nations, he also includes Hong Kong, which is another major hub of business, albeit slightly outside of the region by some definitions.

His book first tackles general travel information, then specific information about the countries he has chosen to describe, and finally he moves into some more general information about each individual country. The result is a book that is essentially quite useful for people intending to travel to Southeast Asian on business.

The first section is, however, rather too basic. Perhaps it is due to my own experience in travelling, but the information contained here is just too obvious. The only people for whom this would be worthwhile are those who’ve never even read a single word about Southeast Asia.

When it comes to the middle section, however, the details given about actually interacting with people in each country are better. There is some genuinely valuable descriptions of the major airports that would be useful even for experienced travellers, too. In particular, the author’s dissection of Asia’s business card culture is fascinating (and, in my experience, it is entirely accurate). 

I can’t imagine why he chose to put the most general information at the back of the book. Each of these sections gives an overview of the various previously described countries, but reads more like a Wikipedia article. Knowing a few details about ancient societies who lived in these places doesn’t really seem in-keeping with the rest of the book, and if it were to be included, it should surely come earlier than it does.

The biggest fault with this book, however, is the author’s gross over-use of exclamation points. These should be used sparingly in any book, and even a light-hearted ebook ought to be comparatively free. Yet throughout Restall’s guide, he peppers his sentences with exclamation points that this reviewer found unbearable.

Non-Obvious 2017 Edition

Non-Obvious 2017 Edition: How To Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict The Future, by Rohit Bhargava (Ideapress Publishing; 2017)


Rohit Bhargava is a professor at Georgetown University who studies trends. As the title suggests, he tends to ignore the obvious ones in favor of those that are a little more unusual. Each year, he releases his list of “non-obvious” trends as a way of predicting the future. He also lays out his methodology for predicting the future and grades himself on his past efforts.

The book begins with an overview of his aims, which are mostly to predict the future without being too obvious, and not to look too far ahead – that is, after all, the realm of science fiction and even the greatest minds can’t tell what’s likely to happen. He also breaks down his methods for naming trends, something to which he seems to give undue importance. He appears reluctant to simply name things, but rather brands his ideas in unusual or witty ways.

After that, he lists fifteen new trends, explaining what he means through examples, and then outlining why it is important and how it can be utilized. For example, one of the trends this year is “moonshot entrepreneurship,” which means that modern businesses are more interested in saving the world than making a profit – or perhaps they view one as a means to doing the other. In another chapter, he talks about “fierce feminism” (which I wouldn’t have called “non-obvious”) and details how having more women in your business is beneficial. Again, that seems a bit obvious to me.

I really thought his explanation of some trends was fascinating and actually inspired me somewhat in my own life. For one example, his description of “loveable imperfections” made me think about how this could be applied to my own business. I liked that he was very open about his methodology and willing to critique his own past predictions. That sort of openness is refreshing.