Book tips: Summer reading recommendations 2019

Though the season’s definitely been a bit fickle so far here in the UK, it is definitely summer! With many of us headed off on August holidays, the CPI team decided to ask ourselves and our friends: What have you read lately that has really made you think?

We’re sure you can find your perfect beach read on this wide-ranging list…

Daniel Thornton, Director of External Relations, Ark

  • The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals its Secrets by Michael Blastland takes a fascinating look at the unpredictability of the world, providing a balance to the literature on cognitive biases and making practical suggestions about how to operate in uncertainty.
  • Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy provides a gripping insight into how the ultimate evolution of a bureaucracy – the Soviet Union – grapples with the truth.

Nadine Smith, CPI Global Director 

  • Taking Up Space, The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi. I always wondered if I’d have fitted in at Oxbridge – I was never asked to apply. As a mixed race girl back in the 1990s, maybe it would have broken me and my school knew that better than me, or maybe I lacked the commitment to study that young. I’ll never really know the real reasons. But for two young black women today who didn’t just attend Cambridge, but made their journey there everyone’s business, they didn’t let it break them. This ‘how to chart your path at a predominantly white, elite university as a black woman’ is a survival guide for black women considering university and for everyone else it is a reminder that the struggle for equality is all of ours to embrace. For me, it’s wonderful we can look to the young for strength as much as they look to us for support. 
  • New Power: How It’s Changing the 21st Century – and Why You Need to Know by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans. How the nature of power has changed and is changing all the time is a theme we are exploring at CPI. #Metoo got us all talking about the power of social media to bring about much-needed culture changes and the downsides of saying what needs to be said out in the open. This book sets out the new power that is determined by ‘the crowd’, how we can understand it, harness it and thrive in it. I will be asking myself when I read it whether the remnants of  ‘old power’ are too hard to dismantle for good reasons – whether it can and must still play a role alongside this ‘new power’ of which we have yet to understand the true impact. 

Vera Kobalia, CPI People’s Panel member

  • Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro. Working is a biographical memoir on research and writing by a two-time Pulitzer prize author Rober A. Caro. Caro shares his approaches to researching and interviewing, explains why he chose to write about political power and gives us plenty of memorable stories on people that shaped 20th century America. All this is done in the beautiful prose that Caro is known for.
  • A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck. After the second world war ended, John Steinbeck, then a journalist for Life magazine, travelled with Robert Capa to the Soviet Union to write about the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens. Full of absurd situations and comedic adventures – and complemented with photographs by Capa – this book manages to capture the soul of the Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian people. 60 years have passed, but The Russian Journal might be a better interpretation of what it means to be Russian/Ukrainian/Georgian than any recent attempt.

Danny Buerkli, CPI Global Director

  • The End of Eddy (“En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule”) by Edouard Louis. This autobiographical novel about Edouard Louis’ childhood amid homophobia and poverty in France is grim, intolerable, and deeply touching. An utterly brilliant book.
  • Dark Star by Oliver Langmead. A classic sci-fi noir detective story written entirely in iambic pentameter. The story itself has all the trappings of the genre, but the fact that it’s told in epic verse makes it incredibly strange and enjoyable.
  • Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott. A modern classic published in 1998 – possibly one of the most important books written about how governments operate. It’s as relevant as it’s ever been. Scott shows how and why top-down decision-making, no matter how well intended or ‘evidence-based’, fails under complexity.

Donna Hall, Chair of the New Local Government Network

  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. A collection of short stories that is so sad yet uplifting in his usual stripped back way. 
  • Two recent publications from the New Local Government Network (NLGN) are really challenging how we change the mindset of public services systems. 
    • The Community Paradigm report argues for a radical rethink of the role of councils, NHS, Police, DWP, etc. away from the state paradigm of top-down, siloed, transactional services towards community solutions. The market and the state paradigms of yesterday are not fit for purpose in the modern world as many were designed in the 1940s. We need a new mindset that passes control back to communities. 
    • The Community Commissioning report builds on this theory and explains how to design better services by trusting communities.

John Burgoyne, CPI North America Senior Programme Associate

  • It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. The Basecamp founders challenge traditional business structures and norms in this easy to read manifesto. Their insights and ideas around building a “calm company” – cutting out the waste instead of putting in longer hours – feels very relevant to government. Their approach to employee wellbeing is also noteworthy for the public sector, where complex problems can go hand in hand with high levels of stress and compassion fatigue.
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman. With his background in neuroscience, Eagleman gives a fascinating tour of the human mind, where the subconscious brain plays a central role in shaping our behavior. An expert at translating complicated concepts into a compelling narrative, Eagleman describes our brains’ teams of rivalries – where different systems battle to influence decision-making. For example, the impulsiveness vs. long-term decision-making rivalry plays a large role in influencing criminal behavior. His recommendations around criminal justice reform leaves one excited by the potential of using neuroscience to inform public policy.

Mark Foden, host of The Clock and the Cat podcast

  • Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state by Hilary Cottam. This is a great book. It shows how genuine change emerges from focusing on interactions over transactions; proceeding by experiment not analysis; encouraging development of latent capabilities not solving apparent problems; and enabling growth rather than “scaling up”.
  • With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge. The extraordinary memoirs of a US marine fighting in the Pacific campaigns of WW2. A sobering reminder, in multiple senses, just what we are capable of. 
  • Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. Slightly fraudulent since I’m only half way through but this (play) is unusual and entertaining. There’s been something to jab my grey matter on every page. It’s got philosophy, physics and also pies; thoughts on time, entropy and the nature of order and disorder; and plenty of other stuff of which I’ve yet to make sense. 

Margot Gagliani, CPI Global Senior Programme Associate

  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. I bought this in Waterstone’s and read it in one afternoon. It’s a very short, unusual, surreal book about very real topics: death and grief and the complicated journey of continuing to live after someone you love has died. 
  • I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell. In this autobiographical book, O’Farrell explores all her near-misses, near-death experiences: moments where she was about to die, but didn’t. It’s a very candid and intimate read that leaves you feeling alive. 
  • Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now, As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It by Craig Taylor. For anyone who has recently moved to or away from London. 80 oral histories from people who adore London, loathe London, or are indifferent but still live in London. It’s a great way to get to know the city and its inhabitants, and to understand that everyone’s experience of London is different, but unified by one fact: if you decide to be a Londoner, you become a Londoner. 

Laurent Ledoux, Partner, Phusis Partners

 

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