What is ‘good’ Christmas-time reading? In the holidays we are all seeking that bit more peace with respect to closing the year and that bit more hope with respect to a future year. Reading a book to complement those feelings has an obvious allure.
Of course, so much is down to personal taste and the intentions behind the reading, but good books are defined for most us by making you think in new ways and about new things. In the scaffolding and the bricks – the search for the best ideas – I suggest that we can do more to build a stronger, clearer and professional mind fit to face a complex world in uniquely stressed times. And this comes most from what we read.
The scaffolding is the framing of the issues you are dealing with through the values and beliefs that come from your lifetime experiences. The bricks are the substance of the issues you are dealing with through the best ideas. Some reading ideas in this framework are as follows.
In strengthening your scaffolding, you can exercise the resilient, meditative, and informed mind with these books:
Kieran Setiya | Life is hard. I have been drawn into self-help books too much in my life, they leave you feeling worse so often because they advance too much perfection. But this is much more empathetic and realistic and thoughtful in making the case that philosophy (yes, really) can help us navigate the adversities of human life: pain, loneliness, grief and so on.
Kim Stanley Robinson | The Ministry for the Future. This is fiction with a bit of non-fiction thrown in. KSR is well-known for science fiction which is a fast-paced thriller plotline weaving in climate change, geo-engineering, politics, and societal futures. In a world needing imagination on climate change this is both realistic and optimistic.
Gaia Vince | Nomad century. How climate change will reshape our world. This is a tough read, so be careful. But my ‘Weltschmerz’ (literally ‘world pain’ that the realities of life are grim because of too much suffering and evil) finds an outlet in reading this in understanding this century’s future blighted as it is. It remains a beautiful world. This is a highly imaginative account of the world we are creating, and the part migration will play in adapting.
Lynda Gratton | Redesigning work. As we develop our new way of working with hybrid arrangements, we need to get up to speed on the future of work. I found the audio version of this book easy to absorb and well-framed. The pandemic has given us some silver linings, our work future is one of them.
In the bricks category, the collaborative, prepared and prescient mind could use these books:
Vaclav Smil | Numbers don’t lie | 71 things you need to know about the world. The book title drew me in. But Vaclav Smil is a renowned Czech-Canadian scientist and policy analyst with tremendous understanding of our inter-connected world and the book is an easier read than you’d think. And if you like this, you will also like How the world really works.
Azeem Azhar | The exponential gap. This book covers the ‘exponential gap’ between the power of new technology and humans’ ability to keep up. I worry about the speeding up in speeding up and its consequences in our degraded environment, fast-moving social problems and cyber risks. Basically, we need to shape technology to put it back in the service of society and build a world in which we are the ones who decide what we want from the tools we build.
Susan Cain | Bittersweet. How sorrow and longing make us whole. This book got me both into a darker place before emerging into a lighter place. This book helps you to into places ‘where light and dark meet’ and into spaces that are more sensitive, creative and spiritual. And in reflecting on that, yes that did reduce my weltschmerz.
Susan Cain also wrote ‘Quiet – the power of the introvert in a world that can’t stop talking’. It’s good to talk, but in a world where we are overwhelmed with noise and attempts to grab our attention, getting lost in a book is a source of peace. May the holidays bring you that peace.
And below is the full list that I’ve curated over the years with a bit of grading and narrative to help with priorities.
Roger Urwin | December 2022
BOOK SUGGESTIONS | ROGER URWIN
The Origin of Wealth*
Berners Lee, Mike
There is no Planet B***
Highly readable account of climate change mixing science and economics to help suggest solutions that everyone can contribute towards. This book is ground-breaking in putting our values under scrutiny and into the mix with support for the importance of kindness and fairness
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk*
The End of Theory*
University of California Chief Risk Officer Bookstaber, explains the nature of systemic risk and what happens in crises, like the GFC, when systems seize up, and how agent-based modelling can address some of the issues. The failings of economics are an essential theme
Brynjolffson & McAfee
Machine, Platform, Crowd**
This book is a very clear introduction to the new technologies that are disruptive given scale and need and suggests where industry business models will undergo their Uber-moments, usually when platforms and networks break through
Values: Building a Better World for All***
This is a well-framed and researched book about society adapting its goals to suit its values in a world in which financial value has out-muscled non-financial values. It is particularly strong in showing how to learn from the pandemic through principles of solidarity and fairness
Controversial account of how organisations can be simplified into machines with equations that might be seen as de-personalising. But Dalio is a huge fan of culture and talent and his radical transparency model works for Bridgewater where decisions are fine-tuned by ‘believability’
Wisdom of Finance*
El Erian, Mohamed
When Markets Collide
Thank you for Being Late
The Righteous Mind**
Haidt reveals the soft nature of our belief system in which feelings come first, socialising second, thinking third. His identification of individuals flags the moral foundations in core values of caring, fairness and loyalty in groups. He identifies libertarian principles as innate to individuals
Harari, Yuval Noah
Harari, Yuval Noah
21 Lessons for the 21st Century**
This is a stunning tour de force across work, equality, civilisation, nationalism, religion, immigration, war, post-truth, education and meaning; and a few more. All it misses is global pandemics. ‘Clarity is power’ is key and he identifies pathways to the redesign of life itself
How to Make the World add Up | Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers**
Harford is of course the ‘Undercover Economist’. The steady erosion of standards in the presentation of facts and numbers has meant this book has become essential. Search your feelings, get the back story and be curious and other principles are well-presented and illustrated
Hastings, Reid & Meyer, Erin
No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention
Heimans & Timms
Capitalism Reimagined in a World on Fire**
A book preaching the importance of fairness in business and society, strong institutions, and a guiding purpose and synthesised into how businesses can make these changes themselves and through collaboration. Lots on climate change and inequality. It is overly optimistic though
Thinking Fast and Slow*
Other People’s Money
Kay & King
Legacy – 15 Lessons in Leadership*
The End of Alchemy
The Mosaic Principle
The Peacemakers Code**
Malhotra is the Harvard Business Professor in negotiation, deal-making and conflict resolution who turns storyteller in this science fiction about alien invasion. The story is fast-paced fiction and has significance for society’s ability to face up to existential challenges through co-operation
More than you Know
The Value of Everything; Making and Taking in the Global Economy*
Seeing Around Corners; How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen**
This is about the build-up in disruptions and how assiduous attention to factors at play in disruptions helps with prescience. The methods generate scenarios that enable organisations and individuals to pivot more quickly and join the disruptors and avoid being the disrupted.
How Boards Work: And How they can Work Better in a Chaotic World
The Diversity Bonus
Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us*
Doughnut economics, is a visual framework for sustainable development – shaped like a doughnut or lifebelt – combining planetary boundaries and social boundaries and providing a framework for how different parts of our ecosystem can contribute to a sustainable future
Robinson, Kim Stanley
The Ministry for the Future***
KSR is well-known for science fiction which in this case he weaves into a dive into a number of non-fiction treatises: climate change is central, but so is geo-engineering, politics, and societal futures. In a world needing imagination on climate change this is both realistic and optimistic
Signal and Noise*
The Shareholder Value Myth
The End of Work
This is in the Malcolm Gladwell genre and explains through story-telling how teams can accomplish more than individuals but all too often fail in cognitive diversity by not using multiple frames of reference. The merits of dominant and prestige (servant) leaders is telling
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
Fooled by Randomness**
An accurate account of the part played by noise in life, industry and investing. In this work he writes clearly on the part played by cognitive dissonance in seeing soft data as gospel; and the part played by unexpected events (black swans) and radical uncertainty as later picked up by Kay
This explains the future of AI from its current applications to massive extensions and on to generalised AI and the consequences in terms of the singularity. It is aimed at keeping AI constructive to our humanity but leaves a few doubts as to whether AI can stay a benign force
Becoming Wise; An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living*
Scale. The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies
***= don’t even think of not reading this
**= required and essential reading
*= essential reading