Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Search for God and Guinness


The Search for God and Guinness, a book by Stephen Mansfield, begins with a brief history of beer and moves on to the specifics of the Guinness family and their influence on the world of brewing (and more).

The Guinness family story begins with Arthur Guinness, the patriarch of the family and the creator of what was to become a world-renowned beer company. Arthur, who had a passion for being an entrepreneur and a passion for beer, didn't just have a good idea (starting a beer company), but had a good idea at a good time. In fact, much of the Guinness story of success centers on the family being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of the political, economical and social climate in order to better their business, and arguably, their employees as well.

Mansfield's account of the beer giant is a moving story of the importance of family, love and philanthropy. As he weaves his way through the Guinness family line, Mansfield sheds light on several of the guiding principles that made Guinness the international success that it is today. It was interesting to see the pioneering way Guinness provided for his employees.

From complete employee health care, housing, education and other services to unprecedented compensation for day-laborers, the Guinness company of yesteryear was arguably the first "Google-type" caring company.

While Mansfield's tale of the Guinness clan is interesting and enlightening, I wasn't totally enthralled like I thought I would be. About half-way through the book he lost my interest. I think that this happened for several reasons.

One was that Mansfield's style switched from an intense focus on the Guinness family themselves to a loose focus on the family and a tight focus on Guinness employees who exemplified the "Guinness" character. After hearing about the work of Arthur and his sons, I was disappointed to find the focus shift to other employees. While Mansfield's book seemed designed to show the way God, kindness and the "spirit of Guinness" was alive and well in a modern company, the gradual digression away from the Guinness family and away from philanthropy in general, just left me feeling like Guinness is the same as "any ole company" out there.

The second reason I lost interest was that at the half-way point, Mansfield's tale began a series of distracting bunny trails. He continually jumped from one story to the next, often going backwards and forwards in history with little explanation or warning. At the end of chapters I was often confused as to who did what, and when. These distractions took away from the intended message of the book and left me feeling dissatisfied.

My final critique is that the title seems ill-fitting. While God is definitely a theme in the book, He is certainly not at the crux of the Guinness story. At most, I saw God as serving as a peripheral character, at least in the life of the beer-brewing Guinnesses. (For those of you who are confused, there is also a line of very religious Christian Guinnesses that also descend from Arthur Guinness).

All in all, I give the book a three out of five. If you enjoy history, if you enjoy biographies, if you like knowing random facts to enter into normal conversation, then this book is for you. If not, the book is still interesting and makes a great coffee-table conversation starter. I can't tell you how many times I was approached when reading this book in public places!

Note for Full Disclosure: While I do not receive any monetary compensation for my book reviews, I am provided with free complimentary copies of each book. That being said, this review is completely my own, and free from the influence of Thomas Nelson Book Publishers.

1 comment:

Tiffani R said...

Now that school has started, you are totally going to outstrip my progress on these books!

I'm only about 1/2-way through G&G, but was just thinking to myself the other night, "Wow, we're sort of meandering here and I'm not sure how much this is really about God versus general philanthropy..." So based on YOUR review, it appears I am seeing the same things. :)

 
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