Book Review: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

In one of my first semesters teaching Political Management, one of my students, an aspiring political campaign manager, asked me for a list of books I recommend she read. That request led to the development of my “Recommended Reading List for Political Managers.” I’ve made a commitment to revise and extend that list by reading one book per quarter and adding books I view as beneficial to political practitioners. The idea of writing book reviews naturally grew out of that commitment, and I’ve decided to make use of The Mud Bath to publish these reviews for consumption by political professionals and aspirants alike. So, with that background in mind, I present my first foray into this new realm with my review of Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship At A Time, by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz. Published in New York City, NY, by Currency Doubleday in 2005. First edition, 298 pages, featuring “Connectors Hall of Fame Profiles.” $24.95. ISBN: 0-385-51205-8.

In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi lays out, in an entertaining and attention-keeping way, a coherent and very practical approach for seeking, developing, and maintaining relationships. Ferrazzi’s thesis is that life is better when one is well-connected. Networking, a fairly contemporary term Ferrazzi says, is not done for its own sake. He thus prefers the term “connecting,” which he sees as necessary for career and personal development. Going a step beyond simply expanding your Rolodex, one should seek to maintain relationships for the purpose of connecting others. Ferrazzi, a proven master networker and thus reliable subject-matter expert, thoughtfully conveys a meaningful and methodical strategy for becoming well-connected, and explains in detail the tactics necessary to accomplish that goal.

Never Eat Alone is organized in four sections comprised of generally short, easy (and fun)-to-read chapters. Ferrazzi introduces the reader to the concept of networking and its importance for living a successful (and he later claims) happy life – both professionally and personally. Indeed, Ferrazzi would balk at that description because he explains there should be no demarcation of personal and professional lives; the two should overlap because one should be the same person in both settings. Once the thought of “I should really start networking” is firmly planted in the reader’s mind, Ferrazzi spends the majority of the book dispelling old networking myths and laying out an approach that has worked for him and others, a war chest of tactics to be learned, applied, and honed in an effort to win the networking battle.

Section Four, “Trading Up and Giving Back,” deviates from the thesis insofar as it departs from the purpose of providing strategic or tactical advice for building one’s network and ventures into more general business advice. Section Four is largely dedicated to instructing the reader on the skills of building a name for oneself and through traditional methods (writing articles, etc. on your area of expertise) as well as innovative ones (starting an organization when you can’t get into an already established one). Although Section Four conveys important information, particularly considering Ferrazzi’s intended audience is likely the business-type looking to get ahead, the veering away from the book’s thesis was distracting and seemed to be more about filling pages than fulfilling the mission of the book.

In sum, Ferrazzi’s writing style is engaging and easy to follow. Throughout Never Eat Alone, however, he tends to make use of business jargon that would be largely unfamiliar to non-MBA-types or readers outside the business world. Terms such as “value-add” or “pinging” are terms not frequently used outside the business community. Fortunately, when read in context in Never Eat Alone, the terms are fairly easily interpreted. Ferrazzi also writes in an almost unimposingly self-aggrandizing manner, making remarks such as, “I have over 5,000 people…who will answer the phone when I call” (13) and “The only image [most people] have of a dinner party is of those grandly ornate occasions once glamorized by Martha Stewart, a friend by the way” (191). While minor, these issues could be somewhat distracting to a non-business-professional. More important than being a mere disruption to a reader, the use of jargon and the self-aggrandizing lines aren’t necessarily vital to providing the reader with the strategies necessary to becoming a better connector.

With harmonic flow and engaging prose, Never Eat Alone draws the reader in and conveys a genuine message. Although the book is somewhat anecdotal, Ferrazzi uses the stories to keep the reader engaged and appropriately uses both social science and business management research to justify his claims. Moreover, the “Connectors Hall of Fame Profiles,” which seem to be the contribution of Raz, are captivating glimpses of how connecting has worked for people whose names most of us recognize. Most importantly, far from the typical “you can do it if you just try hard enough” self-help book, Never Eat Alone is motivational without being banal. The advice is clearly organized, easily understood, and creates a desire to be followed.

The strengths of Never Eat Alone clearly offset the book’s few flaws, for which, upon deeper analysis, Ferrazzi should not be held culpable. Although the use of jargon is commonly frowned upon in writing, Ferrazzi’s style demonstrates he is clearly a product of his environment (Harvard MBA and successful CEO) and serves to appeal to his business-professional audience. Greater scrutiny would furthermore indicate the pomp in Ferrazzi’s stories functions to establish his credibility with all readers on the subject of connecting with other people. With Ferrazzi’s credibility established, the reader is more inclined to follow his counsel.

Ferrazzi’s contribution to the body of knowledge is not diminished by is misalignment with typical scholarly expectations. His insight may not be gleaned from original research, but it is no less valuable simply because it came from experience; experience, it must be noted, that is verified by scholarly research. It is the experiential, the practical, many readers seek, and Ferrazzi delivers with near flawlessness. Never Eat Alone is not only for business professionals and introverts seeking to figure out a critical social skill. Ferrazzi’s work is a must-read for students of all disciplines, particularly students – and practitioners – of campaign politics. After all, campaigns are about relationships: relationships with voters, with community leaders, with donors. Without those relationships, your campaign and your candidate are destined for electoral failure.

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