These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Smooth in Meetings

Smooth In Meetings

By Ethan Cooper

(5/5 stars)

A Machiavellian manual for the business world, "Smooth in Meetings" is a great book to read in this decade of corporate scandals from Enron to AIG. The novel provides keen insight into the minds of well-paid executives who grapple for money and power like corporate knights in a perpetual jousting contest. And just like a jousting contest, one wrong move and you're off the horse, into the mud forever.

This breezy novel takes place in 1994-95 just as the tech sector is preparing to boom. Ward Wittman is a senior manager for TriTech, a Minneapolis company that makes hard drives and other computer components. After nearly twenty years with the company, Ward has proven himself an able manager who can work a room better than any politician. Throughout the novel we see how Ward ably manipulates everyone from his wife and two kids to his superiors at TriTech. He is truly a smooth operator.

Yet Ward faces challenges when the company's CEO is deposed and a new man known to be a brutal hatchetman takes over. At the same time Ward is juggling a marriage going stale, a son lacking direction, and a secretary flirting with him. To survive, Ward is going to have to take his game up a notch.

The book focuses exclusively on Ward, giving us insight into how he sees the world as one big game he intends to win. Every gesture, every facial twitch becomes important to conveying his image of the competent professional, while every gesture and twitch of a rival is used to give him an inside edge. As noted above, he remains in this mode even outside the office, working his wife, kids, and "friends" just like his peers and clients. I wouldn't say that he's amoral or unfeeling so much as fiercely determined. The complexity of Ward makes for a great character study.

A well-written and fascinating read, "Smooth in Meetings" plays like an episode of AMC's "Mad Men" with a tad less melodrama, and of course set in the '90s. For those who enjoy that show or just want an insight into the upper echelons of power in the corporate world should read this book. My only major complaint is that Ward is so smooth I kept hoping he was going to get a comeuppance. But I guess as recent history has shown comeuppances in the corporate world are hard to come by.

That is all.

(PS: you won't find this book at your local bookstore or library, but you can find it through Amazon or other online retailers.)

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