Friday, October 10, 2008

We Will Bury You....

Roy Underhill came out with a new book…. Laaadie Frickin’ Daaa.

I am going to review Roy’s book in the blog today. However, I am not going to spew on about the latest Roy Underhill book the way everyone else is. I am going to give a quick review on the “forgotten” Roy Underhill book:

People who say Roy Underhill’s latest book is his first in 12 years seem to be glossing over “Shoe.”

For most of my life I have been watching Roy Underhill tell stories, and the fact is clear that he is one of the most talented communicators on the planet.

Each time I fire up an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop on Tivo, I am blown away by how quickly 22 minutes can pass. And to me it often seems as if he does the entire show in one take.

Friends, if you were to assign values to Roy Underhill’s abilities, his communication skill would rate higher than his knowledge of wood and tools. (And I think we know where he stands on those).

Most woodworkers know all about Roy’s knowledge of woodworking, but very few I have met realize that he wrote the Bible on public speaking and communicating with an audience. Back in 2000, Roy Underhill wrote Khrushchev’s Shoe, and it is effectively the most entertaining text book I have ever read.

Khrushchev’s Shoe is written in Roy’s inimitable style, and the examples, quotes, and illustrations are humorous yet perfectly on point. (It is probably a good thing that a book on communication does at least a fair job of communicating its message.)

Yet buried under the humor is a complete scientific analysis of the five phases of human communication: Getting Attention, Maintaining Interest, Making an Impression, Creating a Conviction, and Directing Action.

The great beauty of this book is that it addresses the science of communication in a way that holds the readers interest. (Roy, you managed to maintain my interest while making an impression.) An example of Roy’s use of scientific detail is a comparison of verbal spectrograms of speakers to visually accentuate the differences in the tonal qualities of their voices. Roy’s point is easily understood when the reader compares the spectrogram of Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with that of the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.’s Promised Land speech.

I believe that nearly everyone who can read and understand English should take the time to study and apply the principles outlined in Roy Underhill’s book Khrushchev’s Shoe. Certainly teachers and sales professionals can gain immediate benefit. However, I like to imagine the impact the book could have on the world of lab rat techies that I have so often worked with over the years. It is my belief that the GDP of the United States would quadruple over dinner if we could get our scientists and engineers to a place where they could explain to the person next to them, the things they so clearly see on the white board inside their brains. As an engineer who did equally well on the both the Math and Verbal part of the SAT, I can assure you that my ability to communicate has been a bigger key to a successful career than my ability to manipulate a calculator or slide rule.

In Khrushchev’s Shoe, Roy Underhill has provided us with an entertaining gem. However, this gem can be used to turn blank stares into what the author describes as a “’minds-on’ state of pleasurable cognition.” And when you can create that experience for your audience, your child, your boss, or the cop standing there with the ticket book… life is going to be as good as it can get.


DudeU_07 said...

Wow. Is that a real book! I got here via Woodworking-magazine blog. Consider yourself bookmarked. I, also a memeber of the engineering population, appreciate your comment on the GDP. So True, So True.

I'm going to amazon to find that book. If this has been a sham, I will still be very entertained. Keep it up.

TA said...

Thanks Jeff. I'm a woodworker and a preacher...always looking for better ways to do both.

Jeff Skiver said...


This is not a sham. I take your accusation/question as a compliment to my wit. Apparently word has gotten out that there is no depth I won't swim down to in an effort to get a laugh.

However, this real book is a testament to the fact that Roy Underhill is a living genius. We think of Roy as being an amazing character in the tiny little box of "Woodworking" that our paradigm-laden minds confine him to.

However, Khrushchev's Shoe clearly proves that Roy is one of those guys who would be a star at whatever you put him to task with.

If you teach him to knit and perl at 9am, at the end of the day he would hand you a felted bag containing 3 dozen socks. (My wife will love that reference).

Let's face it, if you were forced to be stranded on a desert island with one platonic partner (and you were not allowed to select a hot chick or a volleyball) to be your companion... Roy would be the obvious choice. (He could make ANYTHING... and the talks by the campfire would never get old.)

Potomacker said...

I stumbled across this weblog and can sincerely hope that you are still adding to it. I came across Kruschev's Shoe while working on a teaching certification and I found it more insightful and full of applicable concepts than anything that I was paying to read. I agree strongly that Underhill is a greater teacher than woodworker.
I've managed to watch him in action at two different venues. Once was at Hale Hall in Ohio. He was notching a log prior to hewing and explaining how to impose culture on a tree with an axe. It was August, I believe, and sweat was soaking into his red flannel. Yet still his voice carried across the audience. Flawless in his delivery, spontaneous and rehearsed.
And yes, the programs in the studio are done in one take.