Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules (David Marquet, 2015)

ship 3.5/4*

I must confess – I didn’t read this in full. I skimmed most chapters, extracting examples I found particularly compelling and coming back to anecdotes and passages I thought were the most valuable. The book was suggested to me by a friend of mine, after I vaguely mentioned wanting to read something on leadership. I also subsequently ended up using a lot of the content for a work presentation (which is fitting, since my job is related to transport), which was received – I thought – pretty well. I generally resist books of this category (self-help/self-development/leadership/business transformation etc. etc.), so was mightily surprised at how much I got out of it, especially considering I didn’t read it in full!

In Turn the Ship Around!, David Marquet, a retired US Navy captain, tells the story of how he managed to completely transform the rankings of nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Santa Fe, by launching a total paradigm shift of the culture on the ship. Naval culture and traditions, I have learnt, are based around very formal, very specific protocols, very much following the traditional leader-follower, command-and-control mode of leadership. When Marquet was suddenly assigned to command USS Santa Fe, after preparing for a year to take control of a different navy ship, USS Olympia (indeed, it takes more than a year to learn all the ins and outs of nuclear submarines!), he was thrust straight into the deep-end (pardon the pun) and, being so unfamiliar with this particular submarine, was forced to re-examine the leadership approaches so common in the Navy. He began making small but very deliberate changes to his behaviour, gradually altering the dynamics between himself and his crew. The USS Santa Fe went from the worst performing ship in the fleet, with the lowest retention and operational standings, to the highest. Even after Marquet’s departure from the ship, the Santa Fe continued to win awards and promoted a disproportionate number of officers and enlisted men to positions of increased responsibility, including ten subsequent submarine captains.

The examples and anecdotes Marquet uses are genuinely fascinating, and do not assume much prior knowledge of navy ships to be appreciated or understood. I was surprised at how useful and practicable I found Marquet’s advice, and how adaptable his main points were. Undoubtedly, that is why he has become such a strong voice in the leadership space, and why the contextual dissimilarities of navy ships from (presumably) most of the target audience’s careers and working lives do not much matter. If anything, it made this all the more engaging to read. I highly doubt that I – and many others – would want to read a manual on leadership in which the author recounts his experiences of corporate life, and so Marquet’s unique story and experiences give the book a particularly distinctive and quirky character. Through his accounts of the various issues and challenges faced on the ship, I also learned a great deal about nuclear submarines, a topic I did not anticipate ever being interested in.

I won’t attempt to break down Marquet’s main tenets of strong leadership here – as that would, no doubt, result in the loss of context and nuance – but I will say that much of the content is not as radical or surprising as one might think. The book’s true achievement, to me, lay in the way that Marquet demonstrated how a real, lasting difference can be made to whatever role it is that one does. The book does not get lost in the minutiae of psychology or management theory. It simply explains, with numerous examples, how to get the most from the people around you, actively empower others (whether junior, or at the same level), and create trust. As Marquet himself says – if this worked on a nuclear submarine, it can probably work within any organisation!

The Gilmore Girls Companion (A.S. Berman, 2010)



Oh, man. As a long-time Gilmore Girls geek, I reaalllly wanted to like this. The idea was just so wonderful. A.S. Berman, along with his wife (the art director for this project), is certainly a steadfast fan, and while the book did uncover some interesting tidbits about the series (so the back of the set of Lorelei’s house is the front of Sookie’s house!), I thought it was pretty poorly put together.

It was all just a bit of a mess. The book focussed not on trivia, cast interviews, or behind-the-scenes gossip about the production of the show, but more on the author’s personal commentary on each episode. It was, in essence, an episode-by-episode regurgitation of scenes and quotes, with the odd sidebar containing some hastily written background on some of the cast and crew members. Whilst I did enjoy the fact that I could recap and relive each individual episode, I wasn’t given much new information surrounding the show’s making, which is what I was really interested in.

This isn’t to say that the episodic rundown wasn’t well-written. I shared quite a few of Berman’s opinions on the characters and on significant events that take place over the course of the series. He’s clearly watched it several times over, and thought painstakingly about each and every element. I liked his critical approach; Berman wasn’t afraid to point out some of the inconsistencies (the enigma of Mr. Kim, for example!), and his passion for Stars Hollow – and all its wonderfully idiosyncratic inhabitants – shone through at all times. It renewed my own love for the show, and reminded me of its uniqueness: its ability to appeal to multiple generations, its nuanced commentary on social class, its considered handling of all types of relationships, its fast-paced, witty (if sometimes maddening) dialogue, all the while remaining warm and fuzzy and leaving us in mirthful disbelief that a place like Stars Hollow could actually exist (perhaps that’s my big city bias, but seriously, the revolutionary war reenactments, the 24-hour dance-a-thons…?!).

Ultimately, however, I felt that the show deserved a more thorough, more well-researched, more complete Companion guide. Since coming off air, Gilmore Girls has consistently been cited as one of the greatest television shows of all time. This book simply didn’t do it justice, and didn’t allow fans to celebrate all that is great about the series.

Help Me, I’m a Hypochondriac (Philip Martins, 2017)



If somebody described themselves or another person as a ‘hypochondriac’, we’d probably find it vaguely amusing. There is a certain comedic connotation to the word, which is likely why it’s been replaced by the simpler, more modern term ‘health anxiety’. And anybody who has ever experienced health anxiety will know that at its best, it can be greatly distressing, and at its worst, completely debilitating.

I decided to read this as a self-help measure, as a way to try to calm my own health anxiety. As a child, I remember having a somewhat morbid fascination with death and disease. At some point, this fascination evolved into sheer terror, and I became utterly obsessed with the myriad of illnesses and afflictions in existence, convinced by all means that it was only a matter of time until some serious, lifelong malady took hold of me. Working through this with an empathetic therapist, I was able to identify some of the life events and experiences that may well have triggered this fear, which, if not an instant fix, at least allowed me to understand the reasons behind my perturbations. As a young person who has always been in relatively good health, the thought of having to continue living in such a state of disquiet ultimately became too much to bear. And so, alongside the therapy, I picked up this book (or my Kindle, rather), having read several favourable reviews online.

There aren’t a great many self-help books on health anxiety. There are many books on anxiety in general, of course, but health anxiety is a rather specific subset of anxiety disorders. This book provided me with a tailor-made toolkit to tackle some of my anxiety-induced symptoms, and to recognise that the majority of physical symptoms also have mental causes. Health anxiety is certainly a vicious circle of worry, and to an extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself you are unwell, chances are, you will become unwell. If you incessantly check your pulse, forever Google your symptoms, and obsessively monitor every freckle on your skin, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be pointed towards something being fatefully wrong (even if there isn’t).

For me, the best thing about this book was that it’s written not by a medical professional, psychologist or self-help guru, but by a regular 33-year-old guy who himself suffered from health anxiety, and self-published this to help others. It was relatable, funny, and readable in the space of about an hour. Definitely one to come back to as and when it might be required.