May 14, 2015

This week in celebrity book reviews: Starbucks CEO praises ex-general’s business book


Unfortunately, this book was not reviewed by Kim Kardashian West

Unfortunately, this book was not reviewed by Kim Kardashian West

If one were to place every kind of writing on a spectrum from Extremely Popular to Online Pharmacy Comments Section, book reviews would, sadly, fall closer to vegan11201’s thoughts on the Waterpik Cordless Water Flosser than, say, the captions that appear under photos of kittens hugging puppies.

This is too bad. After all, even at their dullest and most inane, the worst book reviews are still better than, say, totally anecdotal articles about how people from one city may be moving to another city, but probably aren’t.

How to reinvigorate the lowly book review? One could seek out the most entertaining critics, or the most unusual pairing of book and reviewer, or, ideally, both. But when that doesn’t work, one can also deploy the Celebrity Book Review.

The celebrity book review has a long lineage, but the last few months have seen a number of especially noteworthy iterations. In September, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reviewed Republican war criminal Henry Kissinger’s World Order for the Washington Post. That review included this passage:

Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels. Though we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past, what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.

Not exactly William Hazlitt.

Last month, the New York Times Book Review commissioned former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to review Masha Gessen’s book about Tamerlan and Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy. I will outsource my reaction to this pairing to Twitter user @onekade. Or perhaps former cabinet officials simply turn in clean copy?

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal gave us the newest example of the form. On Tuesday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz turned his attention away from failed campaigns and toward literary criticism. Former general Stanley McChrystal has been known more for his . . . candor than his business acumen, but that hasn’t stopped him from writing a business book: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.


The book, co-written with two former Navy SEALs and a former student of Gen. McChrystal’s leadership course at Yale, combines a compelling war story with insights from history and lessons from the military’s transformation under Gen. McChrystal. Team of Teams shows how civilian organizations, from hospitals to corporations, can benefit from Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations.

How, for instance, should leaders today adapt their thinking for our “information-rich, densely interconnected” world? Any executive with a smartphone knows that mobile devices, digital technologies and social networks have shifted power from the few to the many. Today 140 characters tweeted from someone’s living room can ignite a revolution, eviscerate a stranger’s reputation or hijack a company’s well-intended message.

And so on.

I have no doubt that Schultz finds McChrystal’s book persuasive (would a guy who brought the Flat White to middle America lie?) but I do wonder whether this review—like Clinton’s and Napolitano’s—has more to do with the byline than the book under discussion.

Which is fine, I suppose, but then why not make some bolder choices? Ben Bernanke’s memoir is coming out this fall; I nominate the enterpreneurial author of Selfish—one of the greatest economic success stories of our time—to reckon with it.


Mark Krotov is senior editor at Melville House.