Book Review: Water For Elephants

water for elephants book cover
I know it has been a while since I last submited a review! But this time we have a special guest reviewer! Stephanie Gauthia is my friend, educator and fellow book lover. While she often focuses more on children’s stories (she actually helped point in the direction of this recently reviewed children’s book about the loss of a pet) she couldn’t help but review one of her favorite books: Water For Elephants. Animal stories are always close to both of our hearts. You can find out more about Stephanie by checking out her Twitter.

 

Water For Elephants, which was written by Sara Gruen, tells the life story of Jacob Jankowski. Water For Elephants is narrated by an elderly Jacob, who reminisces about his decision to quit veterinary training at Cornell University, after his parents’ untimely death.

 

At the start of the book, readers follow Jacob’s story as a bright-eyed 22-year-old Jacob ends up running away with the circus and falling in love with Marlena, the circus’ star performer. However, Jacob and Marlena’s romance is anything but smooth sailing as Marlena, who happens to be married to August, the circus’ equestrian trainer, is hiding a dark secret or two. Can Jacob and Marlena’s love triumph over the dark challenges that face them? You’ll have to start reading, to find out.

 

While Water For Elephants is at heart a historical romance, which uses a traveling circus as a backdrop, it’s also worth reading if you’d like to read about what goes on behind the scenes of a circus. As you follow Jacob’s page gripping tale, you’ll get to vicariously discover what it may have been like, to run away and join the circus, in Depression-era America. A time period which tested every American, from businessman to circus performer.

 

While Water For Elephant definitely features plenty of glitz and glamour, Sara Gruen beautifully paints a picture of the two sides of a circus. The glitz and glamour and the dirty reality of circus life. While the circus may not seem like anything special, when the lights go on and the crowds arrive at the big top, Jacob and Marlena’s circus truly comes to life. Thanks to Gruen’s vivid descriptions.

 

Gruen also achieves a remarkable feat in creating a sense of dread and magic, which seems to be waiting behind each turn of your page. You’ll never know what to expect magic or terror, which creates a sense of suspense, that never wanes.

 

While Jacob’s story definitely takes center stage, each character has depth and has a side story to tell. You’ll follow the story of Uncle Al, the psychotic owner of Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, who is reported to throw performers who he is unhappy with off a moving train and Kinko, a dwarf who shares Jacob’s tight living quarters.

 

Another key character who you’ll grow to love is Rosie, an elephant who is purchased from another circus, to perform with Marlena as the circus’ main attraction. If you love animals who have a larger than life personality, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with Rosie. However, it may pay to have tissues on hand as Rosie faces as many challenges and obstacles and Jacob and Marlena.

 

If you’re looking for a light-hearted read about a circus, where everyone gets on, you may want to opt for another book. However, if you’re looking for a riveting story which boasts plenty of drama, romance, and intrigue and you have a soft spot for historical novels, it may be time to run away with the circus and pick up or download a copy of Water For Elephants.

 

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

I stumbled upon Rabid last week and read the book yesterday. In addition to being a voracious reader, I also spend a lot of time listening to NPR. Since I had listened to everything interesting I could find I started looking into the archives and found this book review of Rabid. The book is written by a husband and wife team, the former a journalist and the later a veterinarian, who review the history and massive cultural impact of the virus. The book, like the duo writing it, combined cultural and scientific information into a seamless and smooth story.

Rabies is an interesting subject for sure and it ripe thousands of years of history. The authors argue that the concept is rabies is so terrifying because of that fact that it can affect both animals and humans. Few diseases can do this, short of worms and other internal parasites which have a far less dramatic effect. The couple argues that classic literally archetypes and monsters likely spawned from the virus. Claims that vampires, werewolves and even zombies may have come from rabies seems a little heavy handed but still certainly plausible.

The most interesting point I think they make is in the discussion of the connection between animal companion and the virus. Part of the impact of rabies is the fact that animals close to you can become infected in a way that makes them murderous. The dog has been with man for thousands of years and along with the dog has been rabies. It would be one thing if this was only a disease of the wild animal but the fact that it infects the domestic as well creates an entirely more dramatic image of the disease. That which was once your friend is now you enemy.

Overall, I love these types of books that give you an expansive, cross-cultural view of a particular thing across time. This isn’t an official book review but nonetheless, I would recommend Rabid to anyone who has interested the disease or who wants to learn more about how much of a historical impact the disease has had on the human psyche. Short read and well worth it.

Book Summary and Review: The E-Myth Revisited

The E-Myth is a small business classic by Michael Gerber. He has spent several decades helping small businesses get a better grip on what is holding them back. The main premise is that different personalities in us run our businesses. When these characters do not reach a compromise, the venture fails. They include technicians who deal with the technical issues at the workplace. And equal to the technician is the manager and the entrepreneur. These are all part of the new business owner and these personalities are in all of us. While we may be highly inclined towards one of them, we possess all of them. If you want to run a successful venture, all the three must play a role. Here’s how Gerber breaks them down:

  • The entrepreneur is a dreamer. He sets out something new to do. His life, thoughts, and actions are in the future, thinking of what could be instead of the present. Under normal circumstances, he or she is irritated by the sluggish movement of the world.
  • Technicians have high expertise and technical ability. In most cases, they offer services like cooking, writing computer coding and maintenance. Technicians are happy doing what they do at the expense of other tasks. By ignoring other duties, the chances are high that these people end up failing- at least in the entrepneurial sense.
  • A manager is a detail oriented person. He or she is an individual who aspires to see an organized world without flaws and surprises. He remembers everything including paying suppliers and bills on time.

All three of these components are necessary for the foundation of a successful business. Much of Gerber’s book goes over how to consolidate all three of these personalities into one successful entrepreneurial venture.

How to Grow

For an enterprise to flourish, they must grow beyond the owner A business that depends wholly on the proprietor is not a business but a burden to the proprietor. Every time you take a vacation gets sick the business stops running. That’s not a business, that’s a job.

A real business relies on the operating procedures. You as the reader should strive to make real systems and document them. In that way, you can stop working in the business and work on the firm. You need time to create a going concern entity that can stand alone. You do this through a commitment to standard operating procedures. The model that Gerber uses again and again (and many others in this space do too) is McDonald’s. You can go to any McDonald’s in the world and get a quarter pounder with cheese that looks exactly the same. That is standardization. That allows McDonald’s to hire just about anyone to do the job. Because the process is so refined, detailed and time tested.

Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration

Gerber has a few terms that he uses in order to explain this process:

  • Innovation is the creativity applied in the production of a product efficiently and profitably. Change is essential if you want to improve and move ahead of the competition.
  • Quantification and innovation determine which idea works. If you cannot measure it, how will you ascertain the effect of the change in the firm? Before you inject money and other resources to the enterprise, check the returns. In this way, you will know whether it is worth it or not.
  • Orchestration involves the standardization of the idea that works. Enlist any idea that you standardize as a standard working procedure.

This is the three step process that every successful business, Gerber argues, uses to create a simple and effective system of standardization. Overall the book brings a lot to the table. However, there is a large amount of repetition. Additionally, Gerber brings his own poetic inclination to the book which for the hardcore business and self development reader can get a little tiresome.  Overall, we give the book 4 out of 5 stars. It is worth a read, especially if these concepts are new to you, but if you have read other materials on standardization and franchise thinking you can probably keep moving.

Find out more about Michael Gerber and other works he’s produced on small business development by visiting his website.