Book Review March 2011


zilchZilch: The Power of Zero in Business
Author: Nancy Lublin
Publisher: Portfolio, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-591843-14-6
Pages: 246, includes index

It’s budget time and you’ve been going over your plans for 2011. As your eyes sweep over the pages, several words come to mind: Thin. Slim. Small. Cut, slash, eviscerate, butcher, chop, and several other euphemisms for painful carving. How can your business ever hope to thrive and grow on such increasingly meager budgets?  Find out what nonprofits do by reading Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business by Nancy Lublin.

While sitting in a planning meeting at a “ginormous” global company whose employees were bemoaning a lack of funds, Lublin suggested a few inexpensive solutions. Her ideas were met with silent looks, and Lublin realized that for-profit businesses could learn a thing or ten from businesses that are used to working with nothing or less. She decided to write a book based on what she had learned in her 17 years of running a not-for-profit business and what she could glean from colleagues.
“I realized that what we have to offer,” she says, “can be boiled down to one concept: the power of zero.”

First lesson: Do more with less cash. Bonuses, raises and other incentives are fine, but that’s not always what motivates employees. Hire people with passion for what you do; they’ll work harder and smarter. Offer them opportunities to build skills and never forget the importance of fun. Keep your brand simple, unique, consistent and relevant. Stick with one thing when branding and use “ambassadors” in every facet of your business. With that in mind, choose your partners wisely and remember that word-of-mouth is the most effective method of marketing, ever.

When you are in need of help, money or services, learn to ask wisely and be specific. Never confuse business with friendship. Be shameless, but don’t ask for money — even if that’s what you really need. Then, do more for customers and never underestimate the power of the lagniappe. Be strict with your budget. Learn to barter. Be innovative. Does budgeting make you want to eat antacids for dinner? You won’t need them if you take a big bite of this book first.

Author, founder of Dress for Success and current CEO of, Lublin shows for-profit businesses that being budget-challenged isn’t the end of the world. Zilch is packed with ideas, instructions and tips; so many, that it seems overwhelming at times. Indeed, you may want to read this honest, helpful book twice.


PymPym by Mat Johnson
Spiegel & Grau, March 2011
$24, 322 pp.
Fact: American writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote just one novel in his lifetime, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The 1938 story follows the strange adventures of a New England man who stows away on a whaler and becomes entangled in an ill-fated journey to the South Pole. Mat Johnson’s new novel, Pym, is a brilliant comic adventure that is a wild twist on Poe’s tale. Chris Jaynes is a professor of African-American literature who gets fired from his post and an obsessive book collector who purchases a rare novel from his “book pimp.” The manuscript he now possesses was written by Dirk Peters, a Black man and one of two men, along with Arthur Pym, who survived that journey. Jaynes assembles an all-Black crew of enthusiastic companions and heads to Antarctica to retrace Peters’ adventure. As the explorers seem to have walked back in time in their expedition, the story that unfolds is an original and fantastic tale that unexpectedly comments on literary history, racial identity, slavery, personal ambitions — and obsessions — and social commentary. Johnson’s invigorating storytelling and sharp dialogue make Pym a skillful and riveting work of fiction. 






Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black AmericaHarlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to
the Mecca of Black America
By Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Little, Brown and Co., January 2011
$24.99, 295 pp.
The title of this slim yet informed book is inspired by Ralph Ellison’s 1948 essay “Harlem Is Nowhere,” in which the famed writer mediates on the general conditions of life in Harlem at the time. Now, some six decades later, a writer from Texas examines today’s gentrified Harlem. Essayist Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts says she has always been fascinated with Harlem’s legacy; and since moving there, she was concerned about the changes that were occurring there. In Harlem Is Nowhere, she explores Harlem, as a community, a symbol of achievement and also a place of economic inequality. She includes many of the famous people and landmarks that have provided cultural structure to the community. She also recalls conversations with neighbors and recounts her community activism to contemplate Harlem’s future. As Rhodes-Pitts has said, “The things people were telling, the things that aren’t captured, written down or collected, or what ends up in libraries are as important or more important to me.”