Finding the right gift for a loved one, friend or colleague is not always straightforward. As we enter this holiday season, we set out some ideas for presents that will make a positive impact…

 

Kate Josephs, Director of National Operations, Department for Education, UK

Our Kids: The American dream in crisis by Robert Putnam

Putnam’s celebrated work of 2015 feels even more relevant in 2016, his observations on growing and widening inequality and the steady disappearance of social mobility in the US hit hard. To top it all off, it’s a really wonderful example of how powerful and accessible social science can be when clearly presented data, well researched qualitative insight and really strong narrative storytelling are combined. 

NPR podcast: invisibilia

I increasingly struggle to sit down with a good book what with the demands of life and the squish of London transport at rush hour… So podcasts are my saviour.  Two seasons in, Invisibilia has established itself in the stable of mind expanding NPR podcasts. Looking at the invisible forces that shape human behaviour, episodes explore subjects as diverse as whether personalities can change over an individual’s lifetime, whether there are problems we should stop trying to solve and what life would be like without fear. Abstract concepts are brought to life through the human stories that make up the core of each episode, told with honesty and compassion. Ok, strictly speaking a podcast is free but gifting a donation to NPR so they can continue to produce such excellent reporting might just count! 

Adrian Brown, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Impact 

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

If you’re interested in the implications of Artificial Intelligence for humanity then this has become the must-read book since its publication a couple of years ago. Bostrom mixes science, philosophy, economics and theology to explore the opportunities and risks presented by “superintelligent” machines.

The picture he paints is, in general, a rather bleak one, so don’t read this if you want cheering up (basically under most scenarios we’re doomed). However, for my money its more gripping than most sci-fi accounts of AI and the preface includes a lovely vignette about an owl which is worth reading in the bookshop even if you don’t get through all 352 pages (or just watch the YouTube version here)!

Miki Tsusaka, Senior Partner and Managing Director, Chief Marketing Officer, The Boston Consulting Group

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Professor Adam Grant

I first came upon Professor Grant via his Give and Take book and enjoyed that, too, but read this new publication after seeing him at the World Economic Forum in Davos and having heard his TED talk in Vancouver. As we often work on the what and the how in shaping the future of our clients and ourselves, his book was a great reminder of the who. A few extraordinary who’s can make a huge difference and can literally move mountains.

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka,Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee

This year I would like to recommend a Nobel Prize winner on vinyl – Bob Dylan.

Vincent Chin, Global Public Sector Leader, The Boston Consulting Group

I’d like to recommend two books I read recently, about how geography and ideas truly shaped the world we lived in:

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

The Shape of the New:Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World by Scott L. Montgomery & Daniel Chirot

When read together (simultaneously in my case), one gets a unique understanding of how men and women in history rise to the occasion buoyed by these circumstances.

Jeremy Hillman, Director of Communications, The World Bank Group

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos

Algorithms and machine learning are already affecting our lives, mostly hidden away in the background, but they are going to play a huge role in coming decades on every aspect of our lives in ways it is hard to imagine. This book gets a little mathematical in places but there’s lots here for the average reader to get a deeper insight in how fundamentally they are going to change we live, work and play.

Dr Leila Hoteit, Partner and Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group, Dubai

Three books that made an impact on me this year:

Cleverlands The secrets behind the success of the world’s education superpowers

Secondary school teacher and education consultant Lucy Crehan, frustrated with ever-changing government policy claiming to be based on lessons from “top-performing” education systems, decides to dig deeper and sets off on a personal educational journey through Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, teaching in schools, immersing herself in their very different cultures and discovering the surprising truths about school that don’t appear in the charts and graphs. A great read for anyone passionate about education.

The Forty Rules of Love

In this lyrical novel, Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalising parallel narratives –  one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz – that together incarnate the poet’s timeless message of love. I really enjoyed this book as it talks about the struggle between following the mind and the heart and illustrates love in its pure form.  (I read it on a sail boat around the Croatian sea this summer which probably adds to why I liked it.) Nothing to do with public sector but still a nice Christmas gift.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Both a gift and a recommendation by our CEO, Rich Lesser. A highly insightful read by Adam Grant that examines the link between success and our interactions with others and the surprising forces that shape why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom

Beth Blauer, Executive Director of Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence

Two books that have helped me keep perspective this year:

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin

This book will change the way you think about America’s poor. Every person, from every perspective, screaming for reform should be required to read it. Learn more here.

When Breath Becomes Air

This marks my second holiday season without my husband and the father of my children. This book, written by a man who faced the exact diagnosis as we did, put in to words much of the emotion that marked our life for the nine months of our own unwinnable fight against cancer. Remember that the holidays aren’t easy for many people. To learn more about our own journey you can read my late husband’s blog at bloggerfather.com

Sir Michael Barber, Co-Chairman of the Centre for Public Impact and Managing Partner of Delivery Associates

Two great books:

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. Short, clear, profound and brilliant.

The General vs The President by HW Brands. Truman and MacArthur slug it out in the midst of the Korean War over Cold War strategy.

Daniel Madhavan, Chief Executive of Impact Investing Australia

Two book recommendations, both oldies but goodies:

Transitions by William Bridges

I have had so many people ask me about my transition from mainstream finance into impact investing and how I made such a big career decision that the book I recommended most this year was Transitions by William Bridges.  It offers some really simple yet helpful ways to think about and navigate the myriad of change we experience in our lives.

The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

Wow, what a year 2016 was, I need not repeat all of the unexpected things that happened in sport, politics and world affairs.  Made me go and dust off The Black Swan (one of my favourites) and remind myself that the predictive powers of our Mediocristan world are often beyond useless, not only because we are not very good at predicting but also because we don’t actually live in Mediocristan!

Larry Kamener, Co-Chairman of the Centre for Public Impact

Submission by Michel Houellebecq

This is a book about  the hypothetical 2022 French Presidential election run-off between Marie La Pen and a moderate Islamist candidate – a super interesting read in the context of the upcoming French election.

Danny Werfel, Director, The Boston Consulting Group, Washington, DC

The Second Machine Age  Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson  and Andrew Mcafee

This book gave me good insights and fun predictions that allowed me to envision where technology is headed and how it may impact my life in the future. But more important, the book offers a thoughtful view on a critical question that should be front and center in the public dialogue – how to adapt to the fact that accelerating technology results in massive displacement of job types that have historically served as the engine of economic growth.

Ian Ball, Chairman of CIPFA International

I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons

Anyone, but especially his many fans,  should enjoy this book.  Not a 2016 release, but given currency by Cohen’s recent death. His songs may stand on their own, but understanding their relationship to Cohen’s life gives them new meaning.

Danny Buerkli, Programme Director of the Centre for Public Impact

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neill

For anyone who has been following the debate over algorithms and their discriminatory potential this book will not offer many new arguments. It is, however, a highly readable introduction to the topic and much recommended for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of these “weapons of math destruction”.

Against Democracy by Jason Brennan

This provocative book argues that many voters are incompetent, that some are more competent than others and that we would be better off if we made sure the incompetent ones were not allowed to vote. Ultimately, Brennan believes that our right to a competent government is more important than our right to vote. It is a well constructed book which, at a minimum, makes one think carefully about the human tragedies that incompetent governments are responsible for and whether voters are to blame for it.