Book by: Adam Braun
Review by: Kathie Sindt
Associate Director of Academic Advising
Johns Hopkins University
In The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, author Adam Braun provides his personal account of the founding of his organization, Pencils of Promise. This book is well-suited for use in introductory college courses covering topics such as career exploration, entrepreneurship, or social justice as the book tells the author’s story of finding his career passion of running his own for-purpose organization. As the book is primarily an autobiography, supplemental additional readings could provide depth into topics to be emphasized by the instructor.
The author tells his story in chronological order, beginning with his high school and family experiences that helped form his values and ending as Pencils of Promise was positioned to become a firmly established organization. Braun progresses through his twenties in the book, hence making his experiences very relatable to students who enter college directly from high school. His writing style is also that of a young man - straightforward and unpretentious - making it easy to read.
The greatest weakness of the book is in the beginning, as the author describes his path from the suburbs to an Ivy League institution to an elite consulting firm. While Braun states some of his early high school motivation came from feeling less financially privileged than his high school peers, he still comes from significant wealth compared to many. This may cause some readers to disconnect from his story – viewing that his guidance and experiences may only be coming from the perspective of one with wealth. If used in the classroom, this could set the stage for a valuable debate.
While understated, the author does address the importance of luck in his success in starting his organization. His use of the social media in the early 2000’s when the space was not yet as crowded as it is today and the fact that his brother was associated with a rising star in the music business gave him exposure that clearly provided growth for his organization. Another theme is showing the reader that he took personal health and safety risks early on such as traveling abroad without safety plans or not having health insurance for himself or for his employees. He later discusses incidents which lead him to take action and work to minimize these risks.
The strengths of this book come from the author’s demonstration of his passion, hard-work, effective use of networking skills, readiness to learn from his mistakes, willingness to accept criticism and consul from others, and need to overcome his own personal weaknesses. Several times Braun relays stories that demonstrate his need to learn from others. For example, he tells the story of when he arrived inappropriately dressed for a meeting and how that individual later opted to help groom him for meeting with potential partners and donors moving forward. The author’s sharing of his own need for knowledge and personal growth make him relatable to the reader and show that he did not grow Pencils of Promise without assistance. For instructors looking for an easy to read book to link together topics found in typical career development courses, this book deserves a look.
The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change. (2014). Book by Adam Braun Review by Kathie Sindt. New York, NY: Scriber (Simon and Schuster). 272 pp., $0.00, (Paperback) ISBN 978-1-4767-3062-2