Monthly Archives: March 2014

Checklists via Atul Gwande’s The Checklist Manifesto

Another older but still pertinent review. Read, enjoy, and apply.

I’ve finished Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto (2009, 175 p.). Yes, I read a whole book about the humble checklist. Yet, as one would expect from someone who is a regular New Yorker contributor, it’s very well written. The basic premise is simple: with increasingly complex undertakings, no person can keep the necessary mental notes needed to do everything that must be done when it should be done. This includes surgeons and their staff, airline pilots, contractors, and yes, even lawyers. (I give myself credit for professional reading on this one.) Gawande gives us a tour of how something as complex as a skyscraper gets built, and built right. He takes us to Boeing to see how simple checklists operate airplanes and save lives. He also takes us into surgery with him and his peers to see how they deal with these problems. Many of his accounts, especially of surgical and airline emergencies, are fascinating and scary. His own challenges getting a working checklist into his O-R makes for interesting reading as well. In sum, it’s a short, fascinating account of how a simple, rather old-fashion device can do a lot of good. Cooks use them all the time: they call them recipes.

Telling a Moving Story: Fiction & Screenplays

This is an older review of two books that I read. They both merit continued attention by lawyers and others for the reasons set forth at the end of my post. Use this blog as a gateway into reading them. Of the two, I think that the McKee book Story is the most useful for trial lawyers.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How Fiction Works & Story


I finished James Woods’s How Fiction Works (2008, 248p) today. Woods talks about the conventions and practices of fiction in the tradition of E.M. Forster. The elements of fiction are enthralling, as they convey life. After having recently finished Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (1997, 419p), the two books come up for easy comparison. Woods discusses the conventions of various authors, most well kn0wn, and how details, realism, character, language, metaphor, and other literary devices mix in the history of fiction from as far back as the Bible. I enjoyed the work as a reminder of the aesthetic enjoyment of reading fiction arising from supreme craftsmanship. Very good indeed, although not as enjoyable as Story, which is an amalgam of high culture (lots of Aristotle referenced) with plentiful dishes of “how to” added. For trial lawyers (or those who have followed the example of the likes of Grisham or Stephen H. Greenleaf and moved to full-time writing), the books have a practical import on how to convey our clients’ stories, which is the stuff of trials.

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