37sginals is a really interesting company that makes some neat software and they have equally interesting and unusual ideas about how to run a business. They also give away useful tidbits of how to run a business the way they do on their blog Signal vs Noise. The two people heading up the company: Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson compressed some of the knowledge from their blog into a book called Getting Real which you can buy from their website but also read for free online. Over the course of a month or so, that’s exactly what I did. I read Getting Real, mostly on my iPod Touch in the few minutes in between classes and similar slivers of time. My reaction to the book was pretty subdued. The ideas in it were interesting, but it wasn’t something I would pay for. When they announced that they were releasing a new book along the same lines, I was interested but wasn’t as exited as a lot of people around the web seemed to be. I bought it a few days ago and this time just sat down and read it in one afternoon in two sittings. Here’s what I learned in the process.
The Book Itself
First off, the book was really hyped in the time before and just after it’s release. It got glowing reviews from a number of important people including Seth Godin. I didn’t really buy into the hype and decided to let things calm down a little until I bought and read it.
Being someone who regularly reads their blog and has read Getting Real I didn’t expect to get anything earth shattering. And that was exactly what happened. I could easily recognized large sections of the book that I had read before (mostly on their blog) and I feel that if I cared to look hard enough, I’d find that a lot of the book is actually on their blog in one form or another. If you’re someone who has never heard of 37signals, or don’t know about the way they do business then you’ll learn a lot from it (and may not like everything you read). But if you already know about them and read their blog your reaction will be more along the lines of “meh”.
I also found the general organization and style of the book rather disappointing. It’s set up as groups of “essays” under certain headings. The groupings are fairly accurate, but the essays seem disconnected and aloof from each other. There is no gentle introduction and no conclusion to tie things together. You feel like you’re constantly being hit with 1-2 page snippets of what you should or should not do without a larger structure to place it into. I agree with the Management Today review in that the style of writing lacks grace and charm and often seems unnecessarily confrontational. In contrast to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, another book that changes the way you live your daily life, this book seems pretty shoddy.
I can’t help but feel that Jason and David were just out to take the best parts of their blog and put them into print rather than sit down and write a proper book. Having 200-500 word articles on a blog is fine, but when I read a book I expect some form of continuity and cohesion. In the end, my reaction to this book is probably that it’s not worth the money for the content. The ideas are powerful and I admire 37signals for doing the business the way they do, but Rework is not one of their better.
The Artwork, Look and Feel
In contrast to how unpolished the writing feels, the physical appearance and feel of the book is very different. It’s hardcover and the jacket feels and looks great with a great choice of black, red and greys for the text. The cover features a picture of a crumpled piece of picture in some kind of glossy paper. It’s obvious that someone took care to think this through.
The illustrations and section titles were done by Mike Rohde and I personally really like them. They’re not very artsy or intricate, but they have a sort of casual beauty to them. They’re simple, but well thought out, each one fitting in well with the essay it accompanies. I would actually be willing to spend money just for the artwork (maybe not a lot, but some reasonable amount). You can learn about the process and see all the pieces together as a Flickr set.
Rework is not a great book or 37signal’s best product by any stretch of the imagination. If it weren’t for the good design and artwork I would tell you to just of read their blog and their last book instead. But this book only if you either really like 37signals or have never heard of them and want to know what all the fuss is about. They make great software and they do good business, but the next time they want to write a book, they should really sit down and write a book instead of seeing how much of their blog they can recycle.