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.
(These quotes come from Ben Bradlee’s essay, The Turning Point: The Battle of Midway, included in Defining a Nation, edited by David Halberstam).
This is what they called a decisive battle.
On May 7, 1942 (five months after Pearl Harbor), American forces under General Wainwright surrendered in the Philippines. The Americans gave up a “tactical victory” to the Japanese at the Battle of Coral Sea.
The scene was now set for the critical sea battle of World War II, the Battle of Midway.
On one side was the greatest sea force ever assembled – more than two hundred Japanese combat ships, including eight carriers, eleven battleships, twenty-two cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, twenty-one submarines, and more than seven hundred planes. The fearsome Admiral Yamamoto was in command. The size is no easier to grasp today than it was on June 3, 1942. This armada was divided into three groups: a four-carrier strike force approaching from the northwest; an invasion/occupation force approaching from the west; and a main battle force of the battleships between the other two.
On the other side, Admiral Nimitz had only three carriers, eight cruisers, and fifteen destroyers. One of the carriers, the Yorktown, had been so badly damaged at Coral Sea that experts said it would take three months to repair her, but 1400 repairmen managed to patch it up in a Pearl Harbor dry dock in two days. Nimitz split this force into two groups – one commanded by Admiral Fletcher, the other by Admiral Raymond Spruance, a last-minute substitute for Admiral Bull Halsey, who had come down with a severe case of shingles. Many students of the Pacific war consider Spruance to have been its greatest American admiral.
The rest of the essay tells the story of the battle. The key “lucky break” for the Americans was an almost simultaneous attack on three Japanese carriers, all three of which happened to have planes and ordnance on the deck, loading fuel, making them sitting/defenseless targets.
Japanese planes on all three carriers were warming up for take off. Gasoline lines snaked across all three decks. Ordnance was stacked everywhere to reload returning planes… In less than ten minutes time, the tide of the war would turn.
When the Japanese commanders finally learned that the Hiryu was sunk, the fate was clear. The invasion of Midway was aborted. The tide of the Pacific war had definitely turned. The Japanese would never again be on the offensive.
I am certainly not a World War II expert. In fact, I know few of the details. I know that my wife’s father was a young, 20 year old signalman who watched his companion killed in front of his eyes from a direct hit by a kamikaze attack, just feet from where he was standing. (No, he has never been able to talk about it with me). But I know that the effort, the courage, the doggedness of countless people gave us our way of life, and, yes, many gave “the last full measure of devotion.”
And I also think this. All progress, all victory, in war and in every thing else, is fought one campaign, one battle at a time. We write the history in big phrases. But it was the single pilot, flying next to the other single pilots, working together in first this battle and then that battle, with their individual acts of courage, that describe the “bigger named” battles (the Battle of Midway), that ultimately led to the biggest description – we won World War II.
It’s Memorial Day. It is right to remember those who deserve our memories, and their memorials – those from the earliest days of this nation to the ones who carry on with individual acts of courage in places far from home today.
And so, as always, we remember these words from Lincoln, after one so very costly battle – one single battle that cost nearly as many lives as the loss of American life in the entire Vietnam War:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Personal note: if you made me clear out my library of all but a handful of books, one that I would keep is this volume edited by Halberstam. You can buy it used from Amazon for as little as $4.00, including shipping. It is a great volume! I encourage you to order a copy, and read it slowly.
This is a blog primarily focused on business books. And one of the biggest best selling books of the last couple of years is Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How it Can Renew America. In it, he argues – he is convinced! – that we need a lot, a whole lot, of new green jobs to jumpstart this stalled economy. Here’s an oft-repeated quote from the book:
Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time. We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems. We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America. Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon: If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle. If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life. And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system.
Van Jones, the now former (and very controversial) former Obama green “expert,” described it this way in his book The Green Collar Economy — How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems:
When you think about the emerging green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts of hybrid buses or wind turbines. Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.
From new transit spending and energy audits in inner cities to windmills and biomass operations in our nation’s heartland, green jobs mean a reinvestment in the communities hardest hit in recent decades.
Now comes the argument that there will simply never be enough green collar jobs to truly revitalize the jobs market. Andrew Sullivan blogged about it here in his post Are Green Jobs A Myth?, with a number of links to other articles in his post. (check them out). According to Kevin Hassett’s Hand Over Your Job If You Want to Dream in Green:
The president has promised to create 5 million green jobs. If he succeeds, then it will cost 11 million jobs in other sectors, and the medium-term increase in unemployment will be 6 million jobs.To put that in perspective, the number of unemployed Americans has increased in the past two years by 7.6 million. Creating 5 million green jobs would do almost the same amount of net harm.
The Economist runs a partial response here.
Here’s my two cents worth: I don’t know if the new green collar jobs will provide enough work to revitalize our economy or not. But I remember how much I liked the David Halberstam edited collection of essays: Defining A Nation: The Remarkable Circumstances that Shaped the American Character. It trumpeted the hard work done by this great country of ours, seen in many projects and accomplishments: we built an Interstate Highway system, a car culture, a media golden age. (Look carefully at the picture on the cover — the Statue of Liberty in the back of a pick up truck on some dusty road — spreading across America. Great image!) Some of those projects provided jobs for very many Americans. But today, we simply do not have any Interstate Highway Systems left to build. (And if we did, with modern building machinery and technology, it would provide far fewer jobs). The new projects are going to have to be something – new. Will green jobs provide such a massive infusion of new jobs? I don’t know.
And I do think we are in for a rough time for a while. (See my post about a slip down Maslow’s hierarchy). But underneath it all, as I reflect on Halberstam’s collection of success stories, the more convinced I am that we will build/discover/grow our way out of the current seemingly dire circumstances. Green collar jobs may be part of the solution. And if they do not provide enough, then we will have to find something else. And we will — we always have.