Summer. The word conjures up rest and relaxation, sunshine and sandcastles. And, importantly, a chance to catch up with the reading you don’t normally have time for during your working week.
As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere gear up to wind down, we have rounded up some recommendations for what to read over the next month or so…
- Climate of Hope by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope. The world is warming and we can’t count on the federal government to do its part to address it. Local governments and private businesses are going to have to lead the way in addressing this crisis before it is too late. Climate of Hope is an eye-opening look at the causes and impact of climate change that provides real-world examples and solutions for how cities and private industry are working to reduce our collective impact on the environment we all share.
- March, by John Lewis. Congressman John Lewis is a civil rights icon and leader who marched, fought and bled to create a more just and equitable society for all. It is critical for Americans of all ages to learn about the civil rights movement so that we can appreciate how far we have come, while not forgetting how far we still have to go. The story of the movement comes to vivid life on the pages of this graphic novel series written by Congressman Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell.
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. As a Nashvillian who is both an acclaimed author and a co-owner of Parnassus, an excellent bookstore, Ann Patchett has helped to put our city back on the map in the literary world. Commonwealth is a deeply engrossing novel that explores family relationships through the years with humor and heartbreak. The book tells the tale of a family whose lives are rocked by death and distance, divorce and remarriage, and a novel within the novel – and how they try to overcome those challenges.
- The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South by John T. Edge. The food we eat as a society is deeply rooted in our history and culture. The Potlikker Papers explores the history and evolution of Southern food that has been shaped throughout the centuries by slavery and segregation, religion, and farming, while taking a look at modern culinary practices through conversations with the men and women putting their mark on the culinary world today.
- The New Urban Crisis by Richard Florida. Cities throughout the United States have seen large increases in wealth and population over the last couple of decades in part because of the creative economy. Now, our challenge as cities is how to embrace this growth and change while making sure existing residents are not displaced or hurt in the process. The New Urban Crisis is an in-depth look at this problem that offers creative policy solutions to ensure more can share in the economic success of our urban cities.
Sir Michael Barber, co-chairman of the Centre for Public Impact, managing partner of Delivery Associates and chair of the Office for Students
- Rivers of Gold and The Golden Age by Hugh Thomas. These are the first two volumes of a trilogy on the history of the Spanish Empire and are the best books I’ve read this year. Brilliant and fascinating narrative history at its best, and a story that is scarcely credible in its combination of brutality, courage, cultural arrogance and misunderstanding. Looking forward to volume three.
- The First Tour de France by Peter Cossins. Stages that were over 400kms ridden through the night as well as the day, on bikes without brakes or gears. Crazy! And good insight into the early stages of the professional sport becoming established among the mass of people and in the media.
- A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright. From this I learned a lot about the landscapes I cycle through and, more particularly, about the need to pay attention to the small details as well as whole landscapes.
- Reshaping the University by David Palfreyman and Ted Tapper. This book – on the history and future of higher education in the UK – really helped me understand the opportunities and challenges ahead for universities in the UK and elsewhere.
Four books to cover both content and frivolity!
- The Bottom Billion by Paul Collie
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Luis de Bernieres
- Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir: With The Lost Photographs of David Attie by Truman Capote and David Attie. A stunning time capsule of life in Brooklyn in the late 1950’s, with Capote’s biting words and Attie’s magical eye.
- Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken. A funny, moving, and powerful memoir of life at the centre of comedy and progressive politics.
- Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker. Beautifully written and deeply poetic essays about life and love and ever-complex human relationships.
- Duty by Robert Gates. This is a fascinating memoir on leadership from one of the most highly respected and storied public sector leaders in the United States, Robert Gates. With anecdotes, humor, and incisive observations, Gates gives us an inside view of what it’s like to lead the largest enterprise in the world, the Department of Defense.
- A Passion for Leadership by Robert Gates. This is a great companion to Duty. Drawing from his experiences as director of the CIA, president of Texas A&M University and then secretary of defense, Gates distillate the lessons learned and best practices that every leader should have in mind.
- The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. An essential guide to how power shifts and empires rise and fall. A brilliant book, vital for anyone trying to understand the big trends at play, and the role of the East in our collective future (as well as our collective past).
- Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. We can argue all day about whether maps or chaps play a greater part in influencing history. Tim’s accessible book frames today’s foreign policy challenges in terms of the big geographical factors, and helps us understand why the chaps, from Putin to Kim, are more shaped by mountains, plains and oceans than they realise.
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Just getting around to one of last year’s “must reads” in the U.S. As Matt Mercer outlines in his review, it’s a memoir of growing up in the Rust Belt. Vance’s personal story reveals some of the challenges and cultural forces at work among some American families and communities.
- Politics, Morality, and Civility by Vaclav Havel. Thanks to my friends at The Trinity Forum for the fantastic recommendation. Writing in 1992 for the budding Czech Republic, Havel offers a vision for “genuine politics” as a driving force for the common good – and the necessity of civility and morality in supporting this vision. Poignant and relevant in our current political climate.
- The Third Wave by Steve Case. Like Hillbilly Elegy, another personal memoir that also weave in some policy and cultural narratives. The founder of America Online and a leader in philanthropy and venture capital, Case offers up a fun read that includes his thoughts on the future of technology and what is needed to sustain entrepreneurship and innovation.
- The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. My 7-year-old daughter has started reading the Chronicles of Narnia, and it’s been wonderful to read along with her. Enchanting storytelling that takes on more meaning this time around!
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Funny, smart and a fascinating view into South African society and the effects of apartheid, from the very personal view of the comedian’s life: a coloured boy, whose conception was, at the time, a crime.
- The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce. A good account of why we are where we are, Luce explains the macro factors at work which brought us Trump, Brexit and more. He eloquently shows the rise of the non-West’s effect on the West through globalisation and the independent effect of automation and AI which will affect us all in different ways – but often ones we can’t predict – as the history of technology reminds us.
- A History of Civilisations by Fernand Braudel. A digestible, brilliant 20th century historian looking at civilisation, culture, and technology across centuries – a great reminder that history doesn’t move in straight lines!
- Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Both are well worth reading for the big picture –the latter, especially, on positing where we might be in future
Vincent Chin, board member of the Centre for Public Impact and global public sector leader at The Boston Consulting Group
- The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
- Mass Flourishing by Edmund Phelps
- The Economics of Inequality by Thomas Picketty
- Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren by John Maynard Keynes
The above are three books and an essay. The essay is from 1930. In the middle of the essay, Keynes pose this profound thought: “For the moment the very rapidity of these changes is hurting and bringing difficult problems to solve. Those countries are suffering relatively which are not in the vanguard of progress. We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear great deal in the years to come – namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour. But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is today. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of a far greater progress still.”
Fast forward 87 years (ie less than the hundred years predicted by Keynes), we are indeed facing a conundrum where the world is likely entering a phase of jobless growth (as posited by Messrs Brynjolfsson and McAfee in The Second Machine Age) and associated with that returns accrue to holders of capital (as Picketty points out in The Economics of Inequality).
So, is there a solution? What will happen to the masses? Could there still be a period of Mass Flourishing as Edmund Phelps describes in his book.
I’d recommend you read all four of these simultaneously this summer!
- Dark Money by Jane Mayer. Money and politics, always a disturbing combination.
- The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Psychology questioned economics – to the benefit of both.
- Other Minds: The Octopus and The Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith. An exploration of consciousness and different forms of intelligence
Sir David Bell, fellow of the Centre for Public Impact and vice-chancellor of the University of Reading
- Darktown by Thomas Mullen. Just occasionally, a novel illuminates a piece of the past better than any traditional social history. Mullen’s story of the first black officers in the Atlanta Police Department is a gripping read and a searing indictment of post-war racism in American society.
- The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald. From obscure 18th century doctrinal disputes to the formidable religious and political machine of the 21st century, FitzGerald chronicles the rise and rise of the evangelical movement. American exceptionalism writ large.
- Pope Francis: Untying the Knots – The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism by Paul Vallely. How did a highly divisive leader of the Argentinian Jesuits go on to be the humble and gracious leader of 1.2bn Roman Catholics? Vallely brilliantly captures the spiritual journey of the first Latin American Pope, a man on a mission to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and make the Church the servant of its people.
The machine stops by E.M. Forster. A prophetic piece of science fiction published in 1909, perfectly imagines a dystopia not too far removed from where we are today
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom. What if one day artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent than humans? Not science fiction but a serious exploration of how stuffed we’d be and what might be done to avert disaster
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich. A collection of short narratives recounting the Chernobyl disaster. Haunting.