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BOOK REVIEW: Scott Berkun’s Mindfire

I’m a fan of Scott Berkun’s books—you can read my reviews of both Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Myths of Innovation—but Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first that I discovered by word of mouth rather than a press release from O’Reilly, Scott’s regular publisher. This is because Mindfire is Scott’s first self-published book, which he did because “I want to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release” and so he is learning to do it himself. I can only imagine what kind of topics Scott plans to write about!

Mindfire is a compilation of short essays from Scott’s previous online work, including his blog at ScottBerkun.com. Avid readers of Scott’s website will recognize a lot of the material. The book itself looks good: I like the cover design and the interior is clean though maybe a little large on the type size. The content is also well-written, engaging and thought-provoking. Scott covers a wide range of topics, from motivation and time management (“The Cult of Busy” is a great opening chapter) to workplace dynamics and evolving your thinking and your products in the face of change. Scott structures Mindfire around his three ultimate takeaways: motivation (“gasoline”), leveraging catalysts (“sparks”) and building long-term success (“fire”).

I enjoyed Mindfire a lot and would recommend it for many readers, but the book falls a little short when compared to his other books I’ve read. Here’s my reasons:

  • No matter how much structure Scott wraps around the book, Mindfire is still a collection of self-contained essays and they don’t share a central theme. Some artforms can get away with this (“Greatest Hits” albums are often popular) but others don’t. The television “clip show” is a prime example. Scott does the best he can but Mindfire just isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
  • One thing I enjoyed in Confessions and Myths of Innovation was Scott’s knack with using anecdotes to illustrate his points. Those anecdotes were always fun to read and enlightening. Mindfire needs the same anecdotal evidence but it’s usually nowhere to be found. I think this is because these essays were designed to be short bursts of insight perfect for blog posts.
  • The “short burst” format is sometimes too short for me. I thought the best entries in Mindfire were the long ones because they had the most detail and fully-formed concepts. In contrast, a chapter like “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” is not much longer than a page and concludes well before it should. I’m not against short segments in books, but only if everything is said that needs to be said. Mindfire left me wanting more sometimes.
  • Books composed of online material always have to compete against their online counterpart—in this case, Scott’s blog. I always ask if the book brings something unique to the reader besides a cover and pages, and I don’t think Mindfire does that. Scott planned to include new essays in Mindfire but eventually gave up on the idea.

Mindfire is a very fine book and would be very useful for anyone working in a creative industry—designers and developers would be ideal—or anyone in business who wants to light a fire underneath themselves. The book isn’t perfect but it’s very good and the price can’t be beat.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Scott Berkun
US $14.95
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com