So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.
I don’t know any advice any better than this. This, of course, is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People — #4 to be precise.
And if you think about “think win-win,” it reinforces a lot of “advice and counsel” from books we read nearly every day. For example, today I presented my synopsis of the terrific book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. These quotes jumped out at me, and reminded me of Covey’s “think win-win” counsel:
Success in any field, but especially in business, is about working with people, not against them.
I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.
A network functions precisely because there’s recognition of mutual need… first you have to stop keeping score.
Or, consider the concept of “generalized reciprocity” from the modern classic, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam. In it, he writes about the appeal of generalized reciprocity: “I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road.”
I think we need to trumpet this concept loudly and clearly in these tense days. There seems to be such fierce competition with others; so many people who are so quick to find fault, to even question the motives of others. It is as though there are people out there rooting for the failure of others.
And we forget that any one failure spells trouble for others – maybe for all.
I was recently re-reading part of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. (One of those, “I really encourage you to read this book” books). Here are a couple of quotes from near the end of the book:
Our own society opted long ago to become interlocked with the rest of the world…
In the Netherlands, we have another expression, ‘You have to be able to get along with your enemy, because he may be the person operating the neighboring pump in your polder.’
In one sense, there is no such thing as an enemy, but only fellow planet users. If your economy is weak, my economy is threatened. If your city is polluted, my clean air is at risk. “If the dikes and pumps fail, we’ll all drown together.’’ (Diamond).
Let’s put it another way: to think and act “win-lose” is really to think and act “lose-lose.” We really are in this together, and “win-win” may be the only path to “win” at all.
Last night, I presented my synopsis of Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. It was a large, opinionated, animated group. The conversations were passionate, and the whole evening really was quite a learning experience.
He observed that Collapse is a book with real implications for the whole oil usage/crisis question. I think he is right.
The message of Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed, written by Pulitzer winner Jared Diamond, is that culture after culture throughout history has “collapsed,” many because they lived only for the day and did not make the right choices for tomorrow. They “used up” what they had, foolishly – tragically. But, because it was then and not now, their collapse was an isolated collapse.
We now are too connected to “collapse” all by ourselves. Diamond wrote:
“Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation… Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote, can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents, and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of global decline. But we are also the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”
He tells the stories of a number of “collapses,” including modern day Montana, and Easter Island, and the Norse in Greenland, and others.
Diamond presents a five point framework for collapse:
1) Environmental damage.
2) Climate change
3) Hostile neighbors
4) Friendly trade partners
5) The society’s response to its environmental problems
And he asks this perplexing question:
“ How could a society fail to have seen the dangers that seem so clear to us in retrospect?”
(or – “what were Easter Islanders saying as they cut down the last tree on their island?”)
I think the participant was correct. It’s a good time to take another, very close look at Collapse.
For a quick read of just one of the stories in Collapse, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s The Vanishing for The New Yorker, his retelling, from the book, of the collapse of the Norse in Greenland. Cultural snobbery was one of the reasons they collapsed. Here’s Gladwell’s concluding paragraph:
When archeologists looked through the ruins of the Western Settlement, they found plenty of the big wooden objects that were so valuable in Greenland—crucifixes, bowls, furniture, doors, roof timbers—which meant that the end came too quickly for anyone to do any scavenging. And, when the archeologists looked at the animal bones left in the debris, they found the bones of newborn calves, meaning that the Norse, in that final winter, had given up on the future. They found toe bones from cows, equal to the number of cow spaces in the barn, meaning that the Norse ate their cattle down to the hoofs, and they found the bones of dogs covered with knife marks, meaning that, in the end, they had to eat their pets. But not fish bones, of course. Right up until they starved to death, the Norse never lost sight of what they stood for.