Book Review: Give and Take by Adam Grant

Give and Take
by Adam Grant

Publication date: January 1st 2014
Publisher: Phoenix (first published January 1st 2013)
Pages: 384


Give and Take highlights what effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills have in common.

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Using his own pioneering research as Wharton’s youngest tenured professor, Grant shows that these styles have a surprising impact on success. Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries. Combining cutting-edge evidence with captivating stories, this landmark book shows how one of America’s best networkers developed his connections, why the creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts transformed his franchise into a winner, and how we could have anticipated Enron’s demise four years before the company collapsed – without ever looking at a single number.

Praised by bestselling authors such as Dan Pink, Tony Hsieh, Dan Ariely, Susan Cain, Dan Gilbert, Gretchen Rubin, Bob Sutton, David Allen, Robert Cialdini, and Seth Godin-as well as senior leaders from Google, McKinsey, Merck, Estee Lauder, Nike, and NASA – Give and Take highlights what effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills have in common. This landmark book opens up an approach to success that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities. 

Source: Goodreads


I would never usually read books on this topic, but “Give and Take” by Adam Grant was chosen as the non-fiction book of the month for the Women’s Literary Collective so I thought I’d give it a try.

Grant’s idea is that, at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Takers want to get as much possible out of another person, matchers want to give and take in equal measure and givers don’t expect anything for their contribution. If you’re interested, you can take a quick quiz online to see which category you fall into: Give and Take Quiz

“As Samuel Johnson purportedly wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

To explain these concepts, Grant uses a series of very detailed examples. As the majority of these examples are North American, I found the majority of them really hard to relate to. I’m not into American politics or sports and I don’t have a great interest in American business culture either (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a full episode of The Simpsons!). I feel that the examples were much longer and much more detailed that necessary and that meant that by the time I got to the actual point, I wasn’t that interested. Something that we discussed at the book club was that, as well as being American, the majority of these examples are from privileged white heterosexual males. This book could have been a great opportunity to explore a whole range of examples and backgrounds, so it’s a disappointment that Grant chose not to.

When I reached the end of the book, there was a section which listed ‘Actions for Impact’, things you can do to apply the principles of the book to your life and work. Looking through the list, I noticed that my workplace already has the vast majority of these things in place, and I wonder if this could be partly why I couldn’t connect with the book so much. I’m thinking that perhaps I am already accustomed to some of these ways of working in my day to day life and therefore couldn’t find a way to connect.

I think the ideas in this book are good and it’s interesting to know that givers are ultimately more successful than takers, but I did find the book overall to be quite tedious and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for this reason. I can’t help but feel that the content of this book would have been better digested in a shorter format, such as an article or podcast.

Overall rating: Whilst I don’t think it’s revolutionary, I found the topic of “Give and Take” to be quite interesting and it sparked some really great discussion. The overall style wasn’t to my tastes though and I’d have preferred not to have had the lengthy, detailed examples that dragged this book out for me. I wouldn’t recommend it as a book, but won’t be ruling out the work of Adam Grant going forward, because I think the message is good, it’s the format that didn’t quite work – 2 stars for the book.

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